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Rodgers Forge Elementary School fifth-grader Nova Medina helps Renaissance Institute student Anne Watson, as she experiments with various uses of an Ozobot.
Rodgers Forge Elementary School fifth-grader Nova Medina helps Renaissance Institute student Anne Watson, as she experiments with various uses of an Ozobot. (Katie Schmidt)

Today’s youth, as “Digital Natives,” have been immersed in the world of technology since birth. Who better then to help serve as guides to older adults who may be curious about the workings of modern tech and are seeking new ways to explore it?

Whitney Jacobs, grandmother of two former and two current Rodgers Forge Elementary School students, teaches a course in the Renaissance Institute through Notre Dame of Maryland University.

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Renaissance Institute is “an active group of men and women over the age of 50 engaged in lifelong learning and intellectual growth.” Jacobs saw an opportunity to pair young people and older adults in an educational experience that could benefit all involved.

Last spring, Jacobs decided to craft a “Beginning Robotics” course. She reached out to Katie Schmidt, STAT teacher at Rodgers Forge Elementary.

STAT, which stands for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, is Baltimore County Public Schools’ initiative to ensure a 21st-century technology learning environment that prepares globally competitive graduates.

In pursuing a robotics course, “my first thoughts were of Katie Schmidt. She is very adept at all things technological, and I knew she had run student clubs for programming,” Jacobs noted. “With permission from Ms. Schmidt and the school principal, Ms. Missy Fanshaw, we planned a six-week course that would allow four visits to RFES for senior citizens to investigate robots and programming, with students from the school as guides.”

Jacobs planned to teach several sessions on history, development and current uses of robots, and to train some fifth-graders as apprentices for teaching her students the fundamentals of programming and maker technology that they use at school.

Topics covered included Spheros, Ozobots, Cubelets, drones and basic coding with an MIT-designed program called Scratch. Nine talented fifth-graders were selected to assist with the classes: Josie Boucher, Finn Hubbard, Sean Jiang, Zoey Jiang, Sal Lenzo, Nova Medina, Nico Miller-Small, Kevin Tan and Patrick Yepsen.

These young instructors were prepped with a mini-session and then worked with the adults, as Schmidt and Jacobs jointly led the course. The final class in the series was held Oct. 10 at RFES.

“The elementary student-instructors transformed into amazing and knowledgeable teachers. They were charming, eager and patient," Jacobs said. "They did a wonderful job explaining things, guiding the adult students to use the robotics in different ways, to fly drones, and write code using Scratch.

“The adults were incredibly engaged and grateful for this opportunity as well. They were sorry to have the course come to a conclusion. Their 10-year-old instructors instilled confidence and curiosity to the point that there were discussions following the last visit of buying robots and doing programming with grandchildren as the seniors exited the building.”

The Renaissance Institute is open to all people who have reached age 50, and it currently has more than 300 members.

Course topics have included literature, public affairs, philosophy, history, music, art, languages, tai chi, film, science, computers, yoga, acting, and more. Learn more at www.ndm.edu/caus/about-us/institutes/renaissance-institute.

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