Robotics and Girl Power at The Ellis School

"We need to expose girls at an early age to things like robotics,” believes Lisa Abel-Palmieri, The Ellis School’s director of technology & innovation. “If we don’t engage them early enough, they won’t believe it’s an option for them.”  That’s why her students begin studying robotics as early as the third grade and continue to hone their coding, design and engineering skills throughout high school. It’s theoretical and it’s practical: Ellis students are using robotics to solve real-life problems and finding ways to infuse robotics into their daily lives.

Q: Why do students need to learn robotics?
A: In this globally connected society, coding and robotics – these are the new literacies that we must prepare girls for. Ellis students learn computer science beginning in the second grade, but we noticed there was a gap in the lower and middle school as it related to robotics and we wanted to develop this.

Q: How successful has it been?
A: We have developed a FIRST Lego League Team in our Middle School, one of only two all-girl middle school robotics teams in the area. They’ve learned to program robots, solve and design challenges, conduct research. In our Upper School we have the Girls of Steel Robotics Team; we were a founding school in this program.

Q: Is it hard to engage girls?
A: The sweet spot is middle school. Robotics is not cold and mindless. Our girls are using robotics to solve programs, and this helps them in engaging some of the really technical areas. It’s important to build perseverance and risk taking at a young age. The idea is that they can hang with the boys.

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