By IZZY HENNAGE
First we hear the whistle calling the kids in from their after school recess, followed by the sound of running footsteps. Once the kids walk into the room, it’s Build A Robot time! Starting in the first week of October, I have been lucky enough to be a co-teacher for an afterschool program with Build A Robot, meeting three days a week for an hour each. The kids, as well as the elementary school teachers and helpers, are so full of life I can’t help but wish the class was longer! Nevertheless, in the time we have together we learn so much about each other, ourselves, and… you guessed it – robots.
Although I was lucky enough to have a stay-at-home mother growing up, many kids do not have that same opportunity. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, as of 2020, 59.8 percent of two parent family households had both parents employed. That’s more than half of the country! Furthermore, as of 2019, there are almost 20 million single parent households in the United States, where the pressure of providing for their family only increases. Due to the busy lives of their working parent(s) many children must stay after school until a parent or sibling can pick them up. Some might see this as a negative. Why would any child want to stay at school longer than they have to? Build A Robot says, “have fun building and creating with your friends!”.
Let’s spend an afterschool Build A Robot session together, shall we? Once the puttering footsteps of post-recess jitters calms down, the kids sit down on the floor while we introduce the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) element of the day. Today, we will learn about a Growth Mindset. What is a growth mindset you might ask? Well, say you had a difficult day at school or work, or you simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed. A part of you might want to give up because you think there’s nothing that could make the situation better. That is what we call a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset will tell you that you cannot do something because you aren’t smart enough, or strong enough. Growth Mindset tells us, it’s all part of the learning process! We teach our kids that the brain is a muscle that you can train to become stronger. So rather than thinking you should give up because you aren’t good enough, you can reframe your thoughts to think of each day as a new day to exercise your brain and become stronger. With a growth mindset, there is no such thing as failure! Once you’ve practiced a growth mindset enough, it becomes a subconscious habit. It is a wonderful and extremely powerful tool that everybody should exercise. The funny thing is, until I started working with Build A Robot, I didn’t even know what a growth mindset was! This is yet another reason why I feel so lucky to work with a program that focuses on positivity in learning.
So we’ve learned what a growth mindset is. Now it’s time to build robots! Each student picks up their robot kits, filled with all the necessary tools and parts for building robots. As you look around, you see that everyone is at a different point in their building process. We each learn at a different pace, at a Build A Robot session, we support this in class. It is understandable for students to feel behind if many of their classmates’ robots look more complete than their own. Feeling behind is not fun, and could be the reason why a student wants to give up or rush through the rest of their building process. That is why we remind the class that it is okay for everyone to be at a different stage of building, and that being behind does not mean you are less capable or less intelligent than the other students. It is times like these that practicing a growth mindset proves to be super beneficial! The hour goes by quickly, and before we know it it’s time to clean up. Once the kids have put away their robot kits, we say our goodbyes. Of course, nothing is over for the teachers until we pick up any screws or nuts that our students may have dropped. I actually believe there are a few screws hidden somewhere in my carpet at home! Ah, c’est la vie.
After a couple of weeks, most of the students have either finished building or started disassembling their first robot. Some have even finished building and programming the second robot! In such a short period of time, our afterschool roboticists have proven to themselves that they are capable of incredible things. I wonder if any of them wish Mom or Dad could pick them up later! Luckily we still have the rest of the semester to work together. For the robots they have built, and for the robots they have yet to build, I salute my young builders for their hard work and perseverance. Until next time!