- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

BROWNSVILLE, Wash. (AP) - Brownsville Elementary second-graders got their first taste of computer programming with Edison, a small robot wobbling inside a thick, black line of magnetic material. Try as he might, he couldn’t get out.

Librarian and media specialist Sue Snelling asked students to reprogram their robot by swiping him across a new bar code. Now Edison waddled on the line, the Kitsap Sun reported (https://bit.ly/21fDe5s).

“It’s really fun, because it’s really weird that he follows the line all the time,” Landon Hill said.

Students suggested possible uses for the technology: an invisible dog fence, a hiker’s digital trail of breadcrumbs, a racetrack for driverless cars.

Brownsville, built in 1954, is the second oldest school in Central Kitsap School District after Central Kitsap High School. But children here are doing cutting edge work with robotics, three-dimensional printing, digital music composition and other forms of coding.

Brownsville is one of seven schools in the state recently recognized as hotbeds of experimentation, imagination and the sense that anything is possible.

“Their creative approaches not only promote better student learning, they improve teacher and staff morale, increase positive behavior and help close the achievement gap,” said Randy Dorn, state schools superintendent, announcing this year’s Innovation Schools. “I applaud their willingness to risk doing things differently and serve as laboratories for new ideas.”

It all began about two years ago when former CK Superintendent Hazel Bauman asked who wanted to become a “school of choice.” The idea was to immerse students in a specialized area of study, such as science and technology or a foreign language, as part of their daily learning.

Brownsville Principal Toby Tebo pitched the idea to his staff at an after-school dinner, attendance optional. Nearly the whole staff showed up.

Tebo led the charge to make Brownsville one of the first schools to introduce Chromebooks and tablets, which the district plans to give to every student in the district. The new devices allow for virtual sharing of ideas among students, access to the Internet and video feedback from teachers on essays and other work.

Grant money from the Department of Defense and the Suquamish Tribe secured equipment like the 3-D printer that’s a centerpiece of the library’s MakerSpace, along with K’NEX and Legos construction blocks, robotics kits and knitting supplies. Yes, knitting is technology, too, Tebo said.

The MakerSpace is equipped to inspire learning through exploration. Tebo is especially excited about the 3-D printer, given the explosion of interest in the field for applications in construction, health care and even food science.

“The basic idea is: You need something, you can build it,” Tebo said. “We’re kind of setting kids up to be ahead of the game.”

But the new initiative isn’t just about giving students “shiny toys.” The technology is incorporated into the curriculum. Tebo hopes the school will develop more flexible, engaging ways to guide students through state-required benchmarks in all subjects.

The experiment did not start out smoothly. The Chromebooks had glitches. The Wi-Fi, which Tebo dragged out of the dark ages, was initially prone to outages. The teachers were ready to throw in the towel.

“People were frustrated, but they kept motoring through,” Tebo said.

Nearly through their second year as a school of choice, Brownsville is hitting on all cylinders.

On the same day the second-graders hypothesized uses for Edison, one group of students visited Pheasant Fields Farm in Silverdale, and another visited Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

The Navy has been among many active partners working with Brownsville to offer real-life activities and field trips where students can apply their skills. For example, the students who visited PSNS just finished building small submersible robots at the school.

Brownsville has 14 clubs with new ones being added regularly.

Enrollment at the school is up to 480 from 360, and there’s a waiting list of students, including some from outside the district.

It’s good to be different, Tebo said. It’s also a tremendous amount of work for the staff.

Brownsville will get a spiffy trophy for its efforts but no monetary reward. That’s OK by Tebo.

“It’s a nice pat on the back,” he said.

___

Information from: Kitsap Sun, https://www.kitsapsun.com/

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