Learning to code with droids: SSCC class uses ‘Star Wars’ character for education

Nearly 30 STEM students and educators flocked to Southern State Community College in Hillsboro on July 25-26 to learn coding and electronics with R2-D2, the beloved droid character from the “Star Wars” franchise.

Computer science teacher Dr. Josh Montgomery developed the class to teach sixth-grade through 12th-grade students and their educators how to apply knowledge of electronics and coding to 20 droid-like “mini domes.”

With help from Montgomery and SSCC computer science students Alex Bradshaw, Blaine Parker, Elijah Siders, and Todd Guden, attendees learned how to make the domes light up, move, chirp, and beep like the droid from the sci-fi movie series.

Montgomery, a “Star Wars” enthusiast, brought a life-size replica of R2-D2, which he built several years ago.

“Everyone really enjoyed the experience,” Montgomery said. “Any time you do coding or electronics you have frustrations, but with the instruction the students were able to figure out what they were doing and everyone completed the course.”

Montgomery said the class represents the idea at the heart of his teaching in SSCC’s computer science curriculum: using project-based learning to apply technical education to real-world skills.

“Those are the kinds of skills I teach in my program,” he said. “Critical thinking skills are in everything we do. You might not always build robots in my classes, but we always do project-based learning with real-world stuff…Sometimes it feels like rocket science, but anyone can do it. It just takes the will to jump, the will to try.

Montgomery said he was asked in May 2021 to create a coding class for DroidBuilders, a group that builds and supports the construction of animatronic droids from the “Star Wars” film series. So Montgomery and his computer science students built 20 miniature R2-D2-inspired domes and designed courses to help students bring the domes to life.

In late May, Montgomery, along with Bradshaw, Parker, and Siders, used the mechanical domes to teach two coding classes at Star Wars Celebration – Anaheim 2022 in Anaheim, California.

Bradshaw described the experience as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

“Being surrounded by people who are passionate about creating and building inspired me to continue my studies,” he said. “Giving my time to teach others has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Parker said the event “allowed me to see a real storyline for my studies.”

“Not only was I able to see what I was learning come to life, but I was also able to help teach those skills to other students,” he said. “During this trip, I realized that you don’t have to go to a big school to do great things. Southern State has given me a life-changing event that I never dreamed would happen.

Parker also said the experience has shown him that “anyone can participate and excel at anything they think of if they have the right teachers.”

SSCC Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Erika Goodwin, said she was pleased with the outcome of the event.

“I was very impressed when I visited the computer lab and saw the high school students and teachers working diligently on their ‘mini-domes’,” she said. “Dr. Montgomery and SSCC Computer Science students conducted a knowledgeable and enjoyable workshop for our local high school students and teachers. I am proud that SSCC can provide these opportunities and fulfill its mission of accessible, high quality education and community engagement.

The fall semester at SSCC begins on August 22. For more information, visit www.sscc.edu or call (937) 393-3431.

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