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Title IV grant funds for coding, robotics

Orange County, FL, educator: ’We as teachers need to think and teach globally’

Published November 29, 2019
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ORLANDO, FL – When the final bell rings on the last day of school, most teachers are as eager as their students for summer break to begin. James Jones, though, is not most teachers. On the last day of school this past spring, Jones was excited about starting a new school year.

How is that possible, you wonder? Because that was the day when Jones learned that a federal grant would fund materials for his much-needed after-school robotics club featuring the TETRIX® building system from Pitsco Education, coding materials from Arduino, and 3-D printing from Afinia.

“I had been sharing my vision for these projects with [Orange County Public Schools Senior Manager for Grants and Special Projects] Teresa Shipley and her team,” Jones explained. “I get a call in April and she tells me there is money available; would I write up my ideas that we’d been discussing? This process continued until the last day of school when we found out we had won the grant.”

Specifically, a federal Title IV grant funded the after-school robotics program. Not only that, but when Shipley saw the fruits of Jones’s efforts, she enlisted his help during the summer to apply for the same funding for the 22 other middle schools in the district, consuming hundreds of hours from Jones, Shipley, her team, and others within the school district.

Why would a teacher give up a large chunk of summer vacation to write grants for his peers? For the same reason Jones enjoys attending national education conferences where he can be found putting on workshops or giving presentations. “I hope I am reaching tens of thousands of students,” Jones said. “It simply isn’t enough anymore to just reach into your own backyard. It is a global world, and we as teachers need to think and teach globally, whenever the opportunity arises.”

TITLE IV FUNDING FOR STEM

While Perkins Career and Technical Education and Title I federal funds are commonly known as sources for STEM funding, Title IV is lesser known but equally viable as a funding source for teachers and CTE officials looking to implement STEM, robotics, and coding curriculum and materials.

Title IV Part A includes a flexible block grant known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants. These grants cover, among other things, STEM programs, career and college counseling, and the use of technology backed by professional development and blended learning.

Pursuing Title IV funding was new to Jones, but he and Shipley were determined from the outset.

“I am not much on giving up. If we had not gotten the grant, I would have written more grants,” Jones said. “[Shipley] just started reaching out to middle school principals. At first, the response was slow. Many of them couldn’t believe their school was going to receive $25,000 in equipment, but they got on board.”

CAREER OPTIONS THROUGH EXPLORATION

As in most other states, Florida’s future economic health will depend on having a workforce ready to use the skills they hone at every level of education. The new state Workforce Education law passed in 2019 requires that students be made aware of their career options through exploration during Grades 6-8, so funding for after-school robotics clubs at all Orange County Public Schools could not have been timelier.

“More and more personal electronics have less buttons and more programming,” Jones said. “This will translate into more jobs that require more of these skills as part of the daily workplace.”

Case in point is Florida lobbying to bring even more tech companies into the state. The Orlando area already boasts Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Coke (robotic arms), Medical City, and many start-up tech companies. Jones wants his students to finish school with not only a foundation in robotics and STEM but also a few layers of real-world experience. That’s more likely to happen if students become knowledgeable about careers at the elementary and middle levels.

“Today, students need to be thinking about careers in middle school,” Jones said. “If students wait until they are juniors or seniors in high school to decide, their options are already getting slim. Finding a direction in middle school allows for research, job shadowing, and internships in high school. This way they know what a career really looks like, instead of jumping into a job and finding out that they are miserable.”

PLANS FOR ROBOTICS AND CODING

Each of the 23 Orange County middle schools will begin its after-school robotics program with 12 TETRIX PRIME robotics sets from Pitsco, two TETRIX MAX Competition in a Box fields, three Arduino Education CTC Go! sets, three Arduino Internet of Things sets, and two Afinia 3-D printers.

Jones, a 24-year veteran of teaching and facilitating science, STEM, careers, robotics, and computer science courses, is leading professional development for all teachers who will oversee the after-school programs.

“I want to add more robotics to our curriculum. Dream big or go home is my philosophy. This past summer we ran two weeks of camps for rising eighth graders. It was a transition camp at our feeder high school,” Jones said. “[Pitsco Education Robotics Application Specialist] Tim Lankford does a fantastic job of getting people started with his videos on the Pitsco website. I will support the teachers here as well. Best of all, this can be replicated year after year with little to no cost.”

“The summer [professional development] session was critical because it took all of our teachers through every activity that they would face, every Expedition the kids would be doing. It was vitally important.”

– Darius McKay, principal, Girard Middle School, Dothan, Alabama

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