Fairfield School second grader Brookelynne Avanzato, right, assists Pre-K students Autumn Bennett and Artie Baum as they build a code design for robot “Indi.” Saco School Department Photo

SACO — School departments around the state, including the Saco School Department, received $77,141 in grant funding to support computer science instruction from the Maine Department of Education.

Saco school officials said the money was used for mobile robotics and programming labs at Saco Pre-K, Governor John Fairfield School, and Young School as well as coding and circuitry labs at C.K. Burns School and Saco Middle School. These labs, paired with professional development for teachers, were provided as part of a larger initiative to expand computer science access in Maine classrooms and included all the equipment and supplies needed to integrate into the lesson.

Technology instructional coach Wendy Cannon recently held an introductory “Robot Playground” with staff at Fairfield and Young Schools. Later, students programmed small robots to follow commands using blocks of code placed on the floor, including lessons using “Indi” and meeting one of the objectives of teaching others how “Indi” works. Students worked together, communicated well, and solved problems, according to Assistant Superintendent Meg Parkhurst.

As well, two classes from Fairfield School brought their new skills to share with students at Saco’s Pre-K. With assistance from Cannon, Fairfield School students became Teacher Helpers (aka “Big”) for Nancy Hopkins’ Pre-K STEM classes. Each “Big” helped a pair of preschool students share, take turns, and experiment with “Indi.”

Fairfield School second grader Seraj Basil, left, explores with Pre-K student Emilia Sinnett how colors change the direction of “Indi.” Saco School Department photo

“I was so proud of each Fairfield School student as they showed patience, focus, and kindness creating such collaboration during the lesson,” said Cannon. “These mobile labs are not only adding phenomenal computer science lessons, but they are creating an engaging educational environment in which kids thrive. Our entire district is thankful for this grant funding.”

“The Pre-K teachers raved about this learning activity sharing how their students came back to the classroom after their STEM period so happy and excited about their Indi Car experience,” said Pre-K director J’Aime Walker. “Apparently, the kids are counting the days until their next STEM period.”

For more information about the grant funding and Maine Teaches Computer Science Initiative, visit www.maine.gov/doe/learning/ltt/computerscience/csi.