Robot Joins Ellis Upper School Community

She is about 3 feet tall. She wears glasses. She is wearing green from head to toe. No, she is not a kindergarten student, she is a robot. The new Ellis Choitek Mark II Robot to be exact!

Director of Educational Technology, Tim Howard, introduced the new Ellis robot to Upper School computer science classes last week with the help of creator and founder, John Choi. Choi is a Computer Science and Arts student from Carnegie Mellon University who founded Choitek in 2016 to support education and to advance mobile robotics in classrooms around the country.
The School’s proximity to Pittsburgh technology hubs like Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Google, Uber, and TechShop provides students with firsthand experiences and opportunities that enhance their understanding of STEM subjects. Whether it’s participating in the Girls of Steel robotics team at CMU or taking soldering classes at TechShop, Ellis is able to leverage partnerships with these world-renowned programs to further student’s comprehension with real-life applications.  

The Ellis School is one of only two schools who currently own the new robot, and faculty members are committed to integrating the robot into the Upper School computer science curriculum. Students will use their computational and critical thinking skills to write code that will bring their ideas to life through the mobile, motorized robot.

“In the Intro to Computer Science Class in the Upper School, students have been learning programming languages and coding. When they are writing code, there is nothing for them to see other than the screen. At this point in the year, they are ready to apply that knowledge and see it in action before their very eyes. The robot lets students see in person what their code can accomplish,” said Mr. Howard.

The Mark II robot runs from a laptop computer USB connection and processes intelligence via the Python programming language, which students will use to code instructions and movements. With 3D printed grippers, extendable arms, and a mobile base, students will customize and adapt their code to make the robot move and perform tasks around the classroom, or even water the plants.

Project-based learning is essential in today’s classroom and the robot encourages students to work collaboratively, problem solve, and troubleshoot in a fun, hands-on way. As the technology landscape rapidly changes, expert Ellis faculty members focus on teaching innovative, 21st century skills that will ensure girls become creators of new technology and information rather than consumers. Computer science courses in the Upper School offer increasingly in-depth enrichment as students progress through courses and prepare to pursue STEM fields in college and beyond.

“The fact that we have a fully functioning robot at Ellis for students to access and experiment with is huge. Students have done so much work to learn new programming languages, and this is a tangible opportunity to elevate those skills. Students are ready to dive right in and get started,” said Mr. Howard.

According to the nonprofit organization, Girls Who Code, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields by 2020. As of today, only 4 percent of female college freshmen are enrolled in computing programs.

Ellis is actively working to change that statistic as educators work to expand computer science offerings at Ellis and pursue cutting-edge technology like the Choitek robot. Through robotics and engineering exploration in the Upper School, students are inspired to take their introductory skills to the next level.

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