Tiffany Park students learning to program robots

Tiffany Park students Abdi Abdullahi, Megan Murayama and Brandon Nguyen demonstrate the results after writing code and downloading it to their robot.  - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Tiffany Park students Abdi Abdullahi, Megan Murayama and Brandon Nguyen demonstrate the results after writing code and downloading it to their robot.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Third-graders through fifth-graders are learning how to write code through a nonprofit with volunteers at Tiffany Park Elementary in Renton.

Cascades Science Squad has a group of professionals, each with a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collective known as “STEM,” who are teaching the students those principles through a robotics afterschool session. Students are actually learning basic programming for their robots and then the robots demonstrate the results.

“Every week they’re improving; they’re becoming more advanced,” said Siren Hakimi, vice president of the program.

First students write the code. Then they download the code into the robot, and finally they can see how well they wrote the code based on how the robot performs. Learning code is ageless as long as you know how to read and write, said Hakimi.

Such hands-on, lab learning is essential and in demand for STEM programs, group leadership said.

“If you learn science, technology in theory, it’s not going to stick with you and based on that they’re going to be making decisions in high school based on what they learned in middle school and elementary school,” said Hakimi. “So it needs to start earlier, this experimenting.”

The nature of STEM learning is experiments, she said, which students should start early in their academic careers if they are to be successful.

Another benefit of Tiffany Park’s program is learning from an older student, who is also one of the volunteers enthusiastic about technology and programming.

Frankie Salmick is a 16-year-old from Skyline High School, who volunteers his time at Tiffany Park mentoring the younger students. He has aspirations of pursuing a career in programming someday.

“I get to see all these little people grow up and I can see that they’re all really enjoying it,” he said. “When they enjoy something they go into the field and 20 years from now I might work with one of them.”

Sonu Arora, president of Cascades Science Squad, started the group for similar reasons.

“One of the major problems is there aren’t that many women in the engineering STEM fields,” she said. “It’s like an age-old problem, but one of the things I’ve found when I was growing up, I actually got some inspiration from one of the old tutors.”

Before she encountered her mentor, Arora was planning to be an accountant. But after taking a course in Small Basic programming, Arora was excited to pursue computer science and now works at Microsoft, as a program manager.

“For me, just having that mentorship was so important because it changed the course of my life,” Arora said.

There are many benefits to having a group like Cascades Science Squad come in to Tiffany Park, said staff. Those benefits include having experts from the field, volunteers with a background in these subject areas, bringing in resources the school doesn’t have and relating the projects to bigger and better things, according to Corrie Freiwaldt, instructional facilitator at Tiffany Park.

“Our teachers can watch and learn from this group and increase their own knowledge about the topic – then later, replicate the class to keep the flow of information to all children in our school,” she said.

The science club is at Tiffany Park Elementary every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and plan to be at Dimmitt Middle School this summer.

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