Soboba students enjoy a STEM robotics class

Stacy Smith Ledford, PK-12 student success program manager for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, teaches Soboba Tribal Preschool children how to set up a “track” for the car-shaped robot to follow during a recent STEM lesson. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special at the News Valley

A recent robotics lesson at Soboba Tribal Preschool proved that even the youngest children can learn to love science, technology, engineering, and math. Thanks to an educational program from the non-profit organization AISES, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, kindergarten students learn the basics of coding and have fun doing it.

Kindergarten teacher Sierra Vivanco had a training session last summer with Stacy Smith Ledford, who is the PK-12 Student Success Program Officer for AISES. This allowed Vivanco to be able to introduce the STEM program to its students at the start of the new school year.

Ledford, who lives in Colorado, previously taught kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades before joining the nonprofit in January. She was in her element when she brought robotic cars to Soboba’s classroom on Thursday, September 22, and worked directly with the students.

“As an educator, I was able to impact a small group of students on an annual basis,” she said. “In this position, I was able to give back to my Indigenous community and reach hundreds of students and help them discover pathways into STEM.”

Ledford is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. As part of the SPRK-ing Interest in Computer Science program at AISES, she works with students from preschool to high school. There are other programs that work with age groups ranging from preschoolers to graduate students and workforce professionals.

“We do our best to communicate with teachers and plan to differentiate ourselves accordingly,” she said. “Sierra has been a dream to work with Soboba and provides the necessary information I need to facilitate my lesson. We were able to ‘launch’ the new indi robot with Soboba’s preschool through Sierra’s AISES partnership. We we are so lucky to have educators who are passionate about STEM and bring these resources to their students.”

Vivanco is very impressed with the organization and its mission to bring STEM to Indigenous schools across the country, providing all the funding and tools necessary for students to learn. His own class was introduced to Sphero Indycar robots, the first school to experiment with them. Ledford said the great thing about the Sphero Indi is that it comes with everything needed in a classy package.

“After I leave, teachers have the curriculum in hand and the resources they need to continue with the basics of coding. I offer virtual Zoom meetings to help educators if they need additional training,” Ledford said.

Vivanco said the car-shaped robots were immediately embraced by its students.

“They were so excited about using robots; they thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she said. “It’s also a bonus that Ms Stacy was a teacher before she started working with AISES, so she works well with younger students.”

The concepts used to “program” the robots are things this age group examines and learns regularly, such as colors, directions, problem-solving skills, rule-following, and decision-making. To make the cars react, colored tiles are laid out in a certain pattern. Green means go, yellow is slow, and several different colors indicate directional turns. The students would take turns starting the car at one end of a row of tiles to see how it would perform. They learned that several green tiles at the start would increase its speed, and the car’s trajectory could be changed by introducing a different colored tile. They seemed very excited to land him on the purple tile, causing him to “dance” as he spun around.

After working together as a whole class to figure out a path for the car, students were divided into teams to work with a car robot and their own set of tiles to make it work the way they wanted. After much trial and error and negotiation over what to try next, the teams cheered when they successfully programmed their robot to follow their desired path. When it was time to go to the playground, a few students asked if they could take the cars out to play with.

Vivanco said she likes that all AISES instructors are of Aboriginal descent or tribal affiliation. She looks forward to attending the organization’s national conference in Palm Springs, October 6-8, to meet other Indigenous educators involved with AISES and receive more professional development on how she can incorporate additional STEM in its own class.

“We don’t often see other role models who come from the same ethnicity and professional/studies background,” she said. “At the kindergarten level, the standards encompass many STEM work and construction concepts. Indi robots are excellent for capturing coding and modeling skills for STEM. »

Vivanco uses the robots as an incentive to work each day, setting aside time at the end of the day for them to associate and work with the robots. She hopes to receive more kits so that every student can have their own to work with independently.

Kindergarten principal Donovan Post is also principal of Noli Indian School on the Soboba Indian Reservation, where some of his students in grades 6 through 12 are already familiar with AISES and robotics.

“We found out about the program through Soboba Tribal TANF. We knew this would be a great program for Noli middle schoolers. We had a quick try during our summer term and the secondary students loved it,” he said. “Sierra came and we tried to use the robots for the kindergarten class. We knew at the time that these robots (Sphero Bolt) were a bit too advanced for this age group. We discovered that they had different car-shaped robots suitable for lower levels.”

Post said he loves that students don’t even realize they’re learning math and other subjects and are just having fun in class.

Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco has recently accepted an offer to chair the AISES Tribal Nations Advisory Board, whose primary role is to advise the organization on issues relevant and important to Tribal Nations. and to help AISES create opportunities for tribal nations and their citizens. He received a letter from Sarah Echohawk, CEO of AISES, requesting his participation on the volunteer board. After discussion with members of the Soboba Tribal Council, he accepted the offer to join. In the end, the offer turned into an offer to be the TNAC chair.

“I got involved with AISES because of the opportunity it can provide our indigenous youth,” he said. “Back home here in Soboba, our youth have been participating in AISES programs for a few years now and the enthusiasm I see in their participation makes me want to do what I can to help AISES reach more indigenous youth. .

President Vivanco, who is also Sierra’s father, added that he knows how important it is to engage young people early in STEM because now and in the future, technology will be at the forefront of our way of life. Introducing young people and involving them early helps maintain interest. He said that when Soboba youth started participating in AISES programs, he got to know some of the advocates and staff and that Soboba helped support the efforts of the non-profit organization.

“My role as Chair of the Tribal Nations Advisory Council is to help AISES meet the growing tribal STEM workforce development needs. We also help AISES shape and guide programs STEM for indigenous youth,” Vivanco said. “I hope our youth here in Soboba can benefit from STEM education. This robotic car program is just the beginning of what I hope will be a more involved effort to educate our youth about STEM. This will help them prepare for their future.

Ledford said the ultimate goal of AISES is to get students excited about STEM and see themselves as a scientist, computer programmer, engineer and similar careers and further develop Indigenous representation in these. areas.

“By bringing resources to schools and introducing them to preschool, elementary and middle school students, we have the opportunity to help students find their strengths and a path to STEM where they are supported by a large community. Indigenous STEM professionals,” she says. “I would like to visit as often as possible, but our grant projects have limitations on travel. We hope that tribes who appreciate and cultivate a love of STEM will invite us to future events so that we can help them develop their resources and the training of their students.

Sierra Vivanco said she has high hopes that her students will soon be able to code and memorize the meaning of each of the colored tiles and how they can use them to create paths for their automotive robots.

“I also hope that they will see STEM differently and use it more in their everyday life, because STEM can be fun too!” she says.

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