Uniondale students learn, have fun in Super Science Saturday program

When 8-year-old Maeve Gascott took her first crack at programming a small robot ball, it didn’t exactly follow the intended path. But no matter, the fourth-grader kept trying until she mastered it her own way — using a virtual joystick on an iPad.

Maeve Gascott and her dad were among several student and parent teams learning about coding and robotics Saturday morning at Walnut Street Elementary School’s Super Science Saturday program.

“Little fingers, big success,” Maeve beamed after the Sphero Bolt robot coasted through the taped course on the floor. Coding would be next. Her father, Jonathan Gascott of Uniondale, said the event is an important educational experience that prepares children to be tech-savvy. School officials said the event also encourages critical thinking and problem-solving.

“It won’t be the first time she’s seen these things. She gets to come in at her own leisure on a Saturday, see some friends, get a little bit of daddy-daughter time and she won’t be shocked when it comes up in the curriculum later,” Gascott added.

So far, Maeve and her father have attended all the Saturday science events. There were five when she was in third grade and this is the second one of four that will be held this school year.

“I hate missing them. I really like to see my friends and share my creations with them,” Maeve Gascott said.

Over 30 crafty students turned the nifty gadgets into parade floats by attaching handmade masks and a balloon. The three-hour event was scheduled to finish off with the robots gliding down the hallway but the additional gear was likely to make the task a little more laborious.

Ten-year-old Nicholas Dass appeared to be a natural, he was the first one to successfully program his app-enabled robot to wind around turns and blocks.

“It’s amazing. …The fact it can move around inside this little ball and be controlled,” Dass said. “I like it. You learn about an experiment and then you build it and test out if it would work.”

Uniondale Schools Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil said the high-energy event helps to extend learning beyond the classroom and into the home.

 “We are really engaging in learning about science, engineering, tinkering, making,” Darrisaw-Akil said, adding that all the students went home with an activity-filled bag.

“So, their parents are experiencing the types of activities we want our kids to do in class and can think about how they can follow up at home with the vocabulary, with other activities, with having conversations with things they learned.”

The event was open to children in third to fifth grade, but younger siblings were not turned away. With robotics expected to continue to dominate the manufacturing industry, several teachers felt this gives their students an early edge.

Jack Drevnyak, a high school technology teacher who was on hand to assist the grade-schoolers, said he hopes the Super Science Saturday program helps them land high-paying jobs in technology.

“We’re really trying to bring in this STEM program at a young age so when they get to high school we could teach them more sophisticated stuff so they’re prepared for the real world,” Drevnyak of Lynbrook, added.

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