Mobile middle school students show off coding skills in robotic vehicle obstacle course

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Seventh-graders at Williamson Middle Grades Preparatory Academy displayed what they’ve learned in a coding project developed through a partnership between Mobile County Public Schools and the University of South Alabama during a Coding Showcase on Thursday.

The project, which began in January and includes about 25 students, was made possible through a USA Social Justice Initiative Grant procured by USA’s College of Education and Professional Studies. Students demonstrated the capabilities of the robotic vehicles they’ve coded in an obstacle course and other challenges.

Williamson Signature Academy Specialist Monique Pettaway said the project has given the students valuable hands-on training in a skill that is important in a wide variety of occupations in today’s workplace. “These kids can tell you exactly what they’re doing,” she said. “Everything we’re doing right now with technology has to do with coding.”

Williamson mathematics teacher Dr. Diana Nelson said the project showed students how mathematics is used in coding and its real-world applications. “The students were allowed to be creative with it and use their imaginations,” she said. “They stepped up to the challenge to not only master it, but show they knew more than we thought they knew.”

The grant recipients are Drs. Shenghua Zha, assistant professor, and Joél Billingsley, associate professor of counseling and instructional sciences, in USA’s Department of Counseling and Instructional Sciences. Dr. Zha, who has met regularly with Williamson’s students throughout the semester, said the project was designed not only to teach students how to code but the computational thinking behind it.

“It is a set of problem-solving skills applicable in STEM as well as our daily lives,” she said. “Students also learn the design thinking skills, such as testing and debugging a malfunctioning car. We see those design thinking skills frequently used in different organizations, such as industries, business and government. So in addition to the STEM subject knowledge, students learn the problem-solving and design-thinking skills that will benefit their future learning and career no matter what direction they choose.”

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