Miles Dickey, Michael O’Quigley and Andy Kope

From left, Miles Dickey, a seventh-grader, and Michael O’Quigley and Andy Kope, both sixth-graders, share a laugh while working on a project during a STEM class at Wilkinson School on Jan. 30.

A propane delivery truck has overturned at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and two hazardous materials teams equipped with robots are trained to respond. They are the Los Angeles County Fire Department, training in Daly City that day, and the San Mateo County Fire Department. While the Los Angeles crew is closer to the accident scene, its trucks are slower and its robot travels at 30 percent less power than San Mateo County’s robot.

The mission before the middle school students: Figure out the speed the robots travel at 40 and 70 percent power using linear equations — and robots, of course.

This mock scenario project was the first undertaken by Wilkinson School teacher Mike Benson’s class as part of new school wide curriculum emphasizing the intersection between science, math and technology. At the beginning of the semester, Wilkinson School partnered with the San Carlos-based nonprofit to help implement the STEM curriculum, which all students are getting for roughly an hour a week. STEM signifies learning having to do with science, technology, engineering and math.

The school is paying for instructors to work with Wilkinson staff to help create and teach cross-curricular lessons, meaning they touch on subject areas such as fractions and linear equations that students are already learning in other classes. Wilkinson School Principal Tim Miller said the instructors are all retired Silicon Valley executives who want to lend their technology expertise to the classroom.

“We made a commitment in this next cycle of accreditation we’re in to improve our technology offerings,” Miller said. “The goal of the early grades is exposure to everything, including technology, and, as we move into the junior high school, we want to stretch kids further to where there is more application and project-based learning more attached to real-world needs.”

That means Wilkinson third- and fourth-graders will learn about force and motion using Lego gears and virtual gears, and the first- and second-graders are learning some basic arithmetic through robotics. This interaction with technology is important for Wilkinson students, Benson believes.

“They’re applying concepts to the real-life situation of making robots go,” Benson said. “With programming they make something new, make mistakes and solve them.”

Wilkinson students had an introduction to the upcoming new curriculum with their participation in Hour of Code, a nationwide endeavor to give students computer science exposure at a young age. While seventh-grader Claire Little’s dad is a computer programmer, she had not done much in the computer science realm before the new STEM curriculum.

“I enjoy it,” Little said. “I thought computer science would be really complicated, but the way it’s set up is you just drag boxes and put in what you want.”

Little added that she realizes the benefits of learning some computer science as a middle school student.

“It seems like this will come up a lot in the future here, in high school and college,” she said. “It’s good to get the basics down earlier instead of later, and it’s fun.”

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