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Robots Help Students Learn at Boys Town Residential Treatment Center


Monday, December 14, 2020

​Boys Town Residential Treatment Center (RTC) students are now learning from robots.

Well, sort of.

Actually, the robots are helping the students get interested in learning.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers play a key role in the growth and stability of the U.S. economy. Now, thanks to a pilot STEM Acellus Robots course for Boys Town RTC students, that exposure could also lead to future job opportunities.

Alyssa Biskup is Education Coordinator for the RTC at the Boys Town National Research Hospital®. She is excited about the opportunity STEM education provides Boys Town kids.

“STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and enables the next generation of innovators," Biskup said. “Because of that, STEM education in school is important to spark an interest in pursuing a STEM career in students."

Biskup says Boys Town RTC students have not always had the opportunity to experience what these work fields have to offer.

“Many of our students have missed out on some of these opportunities due to some challenges that they currently face," she said. “Especially for our kids who are highly mobile, they have been in multiple schools, multiple placements or have just not had the opportunity in their communities or school districts. Some of our kids lack the motivation and interest in even going to school. Here at the RTC, we can offer them something new and exciting that may spark their interest or get them excited to come to school."

Boys Town RTC instructors are more than just teachers.

“Part of our job, for some kids, is to get them to like school again and to feel confident in the classroom," Biskup said. “For other kids, our job is to get them caught up with their course work and challenge them in such a way that builds confidence for their return to their public school."

RTC high school students in good academic standing have the option to enroll in an Acellus course for elective credits. The students must show safe behaviors and will sign a robot safety contract. Only 15 youth at a time will be enrolled in the class to give everyone plenty of individual instruction time. New youth will be able to enroll as others complete the course.

In the Acellus Introduction to Coding course, students are taught how to program using the Blockly coding language. With Blockly, everything is done with little building blocks that snap together in an intuitive way. As students learn to program by snapping blocks together, they are laying a foundation for more advanced programming languages.

In the first half of the class, the course builds a baseline understanding of the concepts needed to learn coding. In the second half of the course, the students are introduced to Cellus Bot, a teaching robot equipped with lights, a motor and sensors, all of which are controlled by block coding modules included as part of the course. Students then progress through different levels of coding and fundamental programming concepts.

Statistics tell us there are currently millions of job vacancies in the STEM industry, while at the same time only 16% of college students graduate in STEM fields or subjects. Demand for STEM jobs has increased dramatically and continues to grow, with many new fields and professions emerging each day.  This as a tremendous opportunity for RTC students.

“The fantastic thing about STEM education is that it's ever-expanding," Biskup said. “STEM is so important to kids because technology is all over our world. From the smartphone device to the personal computer and tablet, we utilize technology in new ways every single day. STEM is an area of education that isn't going to fade away; it's merely going to grow larger. Encouraging a creative, motivated problem solver and a kid who can enjoy learning and think outside of the box is the best gift you can ever give our youth as a teacher."

Boys Town is not only working to help children with their behavioral and mental health problems but helping them continue to grow and learn.