WAYNE, NJ – The Wayne Education Foundation (WEF) sponsored a STEM Robotics program for fourth and fifth grade students across all nine of the Wayne Elementary Schools and last week the thirty-six students in the program gave a demonstration of what they built and learned.

In the Anthony Wayne Middle School gym, all of the students in the program showed off to their families the robot-cars they had built from smart Legos  with an “intelligent brick,” that according to the Lego website “has a programming interface that enables programming and data logging directly onto the brick.”

It was a ten-week program with an hour-and-a-half per session. One week was missed because of snow and the tenth session was this demonstration which was the culmination of the program.

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“The children learned to program the robot-cars to move forward, backward, pivot turns and spin turns of 90 degrees, and they used that to navigate through a course,” said Dana Petrie the Gifted and Talented teacher at Pine, Lafayette and Theunis schools and one of the five coaches in the robotics program.

The first demonstration showed off the ultrasonic sensors that the students built into the robot-cars.  The robots were lined up in a row and followed a blue track to a barrier. The sensor in each robot was programmed by the children and successfully prevented the cars from running into each other or the barrier. 

After the happy applause from the proud families in attendance at the demonstration died down, the five coaches who worked with the children in the program were introduced.

Lisa Sibilia teaches art at Lafayette and Theunis Day and jumped at the chance to be a coach in the Robotics Program. “I feel extremely lucky to have this experience because I am currently studying at Stanford University where I’m learning a lot about innovation and design thinking and we applied a lot of those tools within the robotics framework,” she said to the crowd.

“This was my first time doing robotics and it was amazing to see just how much more they know than I do, “said teacher Serge Sosnov after he was introduced. “The way that the students just picked it up and ran with it, this whole group was a bunch of natural born leaders that are destined for great things.”

“What they learned here was beyond coding,” added Sosnov “it was the ability to fail and to persevere. It was really fun to watch them, as a team, to struggle and rise above it. I felt really lucky to coach these 

This lesson that failing was nothing more than a step in the learning process was one of four central themes to the program which included problem solving and trouble-shooting. “Teamwork and perseverance were the two key pieces that we were trying to get them to understand during the program,” said Dana Petrie, who teaches the Gifted and Talented program at Pine, Lafayette and Theunis Day schools. “We taught them that FAIL was an acronym meaning First Attempt In Learning.”

A video was played on a large screen, showing each of the students talking about their favorite part of the class.  All thirty-six students spoke on the video.

“My favorite thing was building the robot out of Legos,” said one student.

“My favorite moment was when we used the ultrasonic sensor,” said another

“I like that we worked as a team and made new friends.”

“My favorite thing was learning how to code a robot.”

 “Failure is ok. That’s the way you learn.”

During the second part of the demonstration, the children came in their three-person teams and placed their robot-cars on a mat with a path drawn upon it.  The teams had programmed their cars to make the turns on the path and go from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B.’ In front of the crowd of around sixty family members, the students pressed the ‘Go’ button and watched in nervous expectation to see if their program was successful.

All twelve of the teams were successful to one degree or another, and each of the students’ smiles grew wide as their cars finished their routes, and applause greeted their accomplishments.

Karen Maron and Hilary Caruso, the President and Vice President, respectively, from the WEF were on hand to watch the demonstration.

Caruso is also a kindergarten teacher at JFK and grew up in Wayne. “My kindergarten class when I was young is where I teach now and all my kids went through the same class,” Caruso said with a big happy smile.

She was asked how the program came to be and Caruso replied: “The school system has an initiative for STEM and STEAM, so they came to the WEF really wanting to implement the robotics program. They thought that it was important for the children to learn coding and we just took it one step further and donated the money for the program to move forward.”

“The best part of being on the Wayne Education Foundation is that the schools come to us with their wish list and we get to grant their wishes.  It can’t be any better than that,” said Caruso with her infectious smile. “All the money we raise goes back into the school system for programs like this.”

Dawn Auerbach, the Director of Elementary Education for the Wayne Public Schools said: “I couldn’t be prouder of these students, considering they are in fourth and fifth grade and are already doing coding that most high school students have never experienced. And, the fact that they want to be here makes all the difference in the world.

“Our hope is that they have a love for coding and robotics and potentially move into fields like computer science, where there is so much growth and so many job opportunities. So, we’re really excited that we had the turn-out we did and looking forward to the advanced course.

Mohammad Abbasi was a student in the program. “I enjoy robotics, because I was wondering how to make our own machines,” he said.

 “I wanted to code, and it was really fun,” said Becky Minevich. “I like robots; I have lots of them at home.” When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Minevich replied: “I want to be a Fashionista!”

Sabrina Moreno is a student who loves to build Legos at home, and when she learned about the program went to her mother to ask if she could sign up. Her parents loved the idea. “We were happy to learn that this program was available for Sabrina,” said Innesa Moreno, Sabrina’s mom. “She loved the program and wants to sign up for the advanced course in the spring.”

The advanced-level robotics program is for anyone who had taken the first course and will include different types of sensors and a claw used to pick things up. “A challenge might be to program the robots to move an object from one spot to another,” said Petrie.

“Since all nine elementary schools are represented in this group, the students got to work with children from other schools, and they just connected,” said Sibilia. “They faced challenges together and learned how to articulate and face failure in a positive way.”

“Their passion and curiosity really transformed this experience,” said Sibilia. “So, it was powerful,” she added, “and, we, the coaches, learned side-by-side with the kids, so it was so much fun!”