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Engaging the Youth in Programming

Primary Investigator: Drew Alton, Department of physics, Augustana College,

2001 S Summit Ave, (605)274-4924, alton@augie.edu
Partner Institution: Harrisburg North Middle School, part of Harrisburg School
District. Tim Koehler, Principal; Mike Amolins, Curriculum Director; Nancy
Weidenbach, Computer Teacher; Leah Howes, Computer Teacher; Julie Alton,
Technology Integrationist.
Abstract: This proposal requests funds to engage the youth in computer
programing. This program will engage students in hands on programing
projects at the middle school and undergraduate level. It will encourage
collaboration across school boundaries and encourage mentoring
experiences for undergraduates and K-12 students. Our goal will be to
increase student interest in programing and increase the availability by using
that interest to encourage schools to offer more programing courses.
Project Narrative: You are all aware that computer programing is an
essential component of many (most? all?) NASA projects, however the
computer programing offerings have grown smaller in the high school
curriculum. This may seem surprising, as schools offer more computer
support with many schools going one-to-one in computers. They offer a
variety of computer oriented classes, such as web design and graphic arts,
but programing courses have been on the decline in the last several decades
[1, 2, 3]. Understanding exactly why this occurs would be difficult, but it
seems clear that part of the issue is that students arent eager and schools
dont have the resources to offer an under-enrolled course. You are also
aware that certain topics like space are likely to increase students interest
and engagement; we believe robots and drones will have a similar effect.
This project would give undergraduates an engaging programing experience
and a good outreach project; it would give middle school students two
engaging programing projects with the hope this provides enough interest to
invest in a programing course in the high school.
In recent years, the Harrisburg School District has been fortunate to have a
significant technological influence and accessibility for its students. This
includes a 1-to-1 laptop initiative at the high school, a bring your own
device program and movement towards a 1-to-1 initiative at both middle
schools, and enough iPads for approximately 2/3rds of our elementary
students at any given time. Harrisburg was honored to have been designated
as an Apple Distinguished School during the 2012-2013 school year. With
such a significant interest in technology, among both staff and students, it

comes as no surprise that the curriculum itself has expanded to include

abstract approaches to technology that promotes real-world application in a
variety of fields, including basic web page design using programs such as
Dreamweaver, media and broadcasting, scientific instrumentation, and
robotics. However, they havent had the interest presented by the students
in a programming course. With this Project Innovation Grant, one of our goals
will be to develop technology education in Harrisburg to include not only
abstract applications, but also fundamental programming skills that are
essential to any professional in the field. Specifically, our hope is to garner
interest from our middle school program that would ultimately materialize
into an advanced programming course at the high school, potentially
focusing on introductory languages such as Python and/or Java.
The project will have three components that are interrelated. There will be a
sixth grade unit on programing LEGO EV3 robots, and an eighth grade unit
programing drones, and an Augustana Society of Physics Student (SPS)
group will learn to program both the robot and the drones. The SPS students
will then act as mentors helping the classroom teachers on the first day of
the units, and the SPS students and faculty will act as a resource for the
teachers. In the next few paragraphs we will describe the activities of these
three components.
The North Middle School 6th grade computer class will learn to program the
EV3 robots during a 6-8 week unit. We will be rearranging the 6th grade
curriculum by removing less needed units that would otherwise focus on
concepts many if not all students pick up on their own, creating more time
for applied instruction in computer programing. The teacher, along with the
technology integrationist, will work with the entire 6th grade (181 students)
through a series of activities, with at least 3 challenges to be completed.
The teacher and integrationist will use online and book resources to obtain
the needed skills to lead the students through the programming of the EV3s.
We have also contacted EmBe, a local activities club that hosts EV3 training,
about training our teachers during the upcoming school year and will attend
if available.
The North Middle School 8th grade computer class will learn to program Parrot
A. R. Drones using the program Auto Flight. Auto Flight will allow us to
automate the A.R. Drone using a set of predefined control functions and the
full power of the Python programming language. To make room in the
schedule, we will be asking our English Language Arts teachers to teach
what was previously a MLA formatting unit in computer class during their ELA
course. The teachers, along with the technology integrationist, will work with
the entire 8th grade (142 students) to program the drones using Auto Flight.

The unit will last approximately 8 weeks, with 2 or more challenges

completed. We have contacted Michelle Hruby, an electrical engineer
working for Rockwell Collins, about speaking with our students regarding her
role and how she uses programming in her position.
One drone and one LEGO robot will be purchased for the Augustana SPS
group. They will learn to program these and see what fun things can be done
with them. The students have made it clear that they think this will be a fun
chance to learn some cool programing and get to play with a real drone.
This familiarizing will occur in early fall, so that by late fall, they are ready to
act as an assistant teacher for the initial day of the sixth grade EV3 unit. In
the spring they will return to the school to act as assistants for the first day
of the eighth grade unit on drones. Over the course of the year middle
school students and the SPS students will make a presentation as part of
Harrisburgs Science Saturday program.
Science Saturdays provide an opportunity for 3rd5th graders in the Harrisburg
School District to interact with the Harrisburg High School science club in a
fun, safe, and exciting environment. Once a month, high school students
plan a variety of breakout sessions, including dissections, chemistry
experiments, engineering projects, and other hands-on activities. These
events occur once per month throughout the school year, and take place on
Saturday mornings from 9:00am to 12:00pm. The popularity of these events
has grown steadily over the past two years, with an average attendance of
approximately 40 students.
Through the utilization of funds from the NASA Project Innovation Grant,
Science Saturdays will expand to offer breakout sessions in both EV3
programming and drone navigation during the 2015-2016 school year.
Following collaborative educational experiences between students from
Augustana College and Harrisburg North Middle School, as well as planning
time with Harrisburg Health Science (HHS) club members, the participants
will host Science Saturday sessions geared towards 3rd-5th graders. The
benefit of this unique partnership is two-fold. First, it allows for the impact of
this grant to further expand into the Sioux Falls and Harrisburg communities.
Second, it allows for a collaborative educational experience that includes
students from the elementary, middle, and high school grade bands, as well
as those from Augustana College. We will evaluate the students interest in
programing through surveys given before and after each of the sixth and
eighth grade units. A similar survey will be administered to the freshman in
the high school this year, and in future years as this cohort of middle school
students progress into the high school.

In conclusion, we are proposing a set of projects that are coupled together to

increase the impact on the primary participants (middle school students), as
well as provide secondary impact on undergraduates, high school students,
and elementary students. The primary goal is to increase students interest
in programing and thus encourage a high school level programing course to
be implemented in Harrisburg. While programing is the primary content, we
also note that this will engage the students across other topics; specifically,
robotics and aerodynamics, which are of strong interest to NASA. We note
that programing is still a career where females are underrepresented and
that middle school has been identified as the time at which one needs to
capture students interest in STEM. If this program has the expected impact,
we can look at sharing the projects in parts or as a whole with other schools.
1) "America's High School Graduates: Results of the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript
Study." National Center for Educational Statistics. U.S. Department of Education,
2011. Web. 21 July 2015.
2) Wagstaff, Keith. "Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America? |
TIME.com." Time. Time, 16 July 2012. Web. 21 July 2015.
3) Goode, Joanne, and Gail Chapman. "Curriculum Exploring Computer
Science." Curriculum Exploring Computer Science. Web. 21 July 2015.

SD Space Grant FY2014 No-Cost Extension "Project Innovation Grant" PROPOSAL

BUDGET (Suggested Format)
(For project period of Sept. 1, 2015 through May 25, 2016)
Project Title:

Engaging the Youth in Programming


No Cost Share

(Requested NASA funds)

A. Salaries and Wages

Teacher Salaries
Undergraduate Student
Total Salaries and Wages


B. Fringe Benefits
Total Fringe Benefits


Total Salaries, Wages, and Fringe Benefits


C. Travel
Total Travel


D. Supplies
15 EV3 Core set and Expansion set
12 Parrot AR Drone 2.0 with extended battery
1 DJI Phantom 3 Professional Drone with 4K UHD
Video camera
Total Supplies

E. Other Direct Costs

__Training expenses_____________
__Programing parties for UGs_____
__Programing books_____________
Total Other Direct Costs


Total Costs



Budget Notes (please be brief)

A) A small wage for the PI, support for middle school participants to receive training, and a
small stipend for the undergraduates to help with teaching at the middle schools.
B) Fringe benefits on the salary.
C) Travel expenses for Michelle Hruby from Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, IA.
D) These supplies are the basis for this project. Well be purchasing 15 EV3s and their
accompanying components as well as the software site license which will allow groups
of 2 in the sixth grade classes. Well purchase 12 Parrot AR Drone 2.0s which will allow
groups of three to work on programing the drones. Well also purchase DJI Phantom
drone which can be used after the software has been debugged. While this category
forms a substantial investment, we believe that if there is demonstration that it works,
other school districts will be willing to invest this amount to add this program to their
E) We have contacted EmBe about a teacher (or adult) training session and plan to pay for
all the educators to attend such a training session. We plan to hold a few
programming parties for the undergraduates to encourage them to come learn about
the robot and the drone. Well purchase pizza and pop and we are sure they will come.
The students who excel at this and are available will then be supported with the salary
mentioned above to attend the first day of each the EV3 and drone units. A small
amount of money for teacher programing books.

I am a US citizen and I understand that all persons receiving funding must also be a
US citizen.
-Andrew Alton