PEMBROKE — While most fifth-graders spent this spring learning about multiplication, English, and the three R’s, Kenzie and Alayna, both 11 years old, were reading blueprints to build a computer.
The students are in Darlene Trujillo’s fifth-grade class at Pembroke Elementary. Even though Kenzie hopes to be a doctor, she said working on some technological stuff might now be in her future.
“The blueprints were easy for me to read, but building it was sometimes hard,” she said. “My favorite part was getting the Piper computer finished and completing the top of it.”.
Eighteen students worked on the Piper computer project during after-school tutoring time two days a week. The Piper computers cost $300 each. To fund the computers, Trujillo started a Donors Choose page in January, which raised almost $2,000, enough to purchase five computers.
The students started their computers the first week of March.
“The kit comes in a box with all the parts completely disassembled. They have to build an outside box and complete the wiring. The students then have to do the programming for the computer and it is a step-by-step process using Minecraft. The students are familiar with Minecraft and love it. They have to complete challenges and have the proper buttons to move forward. It is an excellent STEM activity to have in the classroom,” Trujillo said.
Minecraft is a block adventure game. The game now has educational editions that integrate coding. Alayna was familiar with the Minecraft game before she began building the computer.
“It was fun and exciting because if you did something wrong, you could take it apart and try to figure it out again until you got it right,” Alayna said. “It feels good because we knew that we could actually build something that was exciting and fun.”
The students completed their last building and program tasks in May, and they spent the last few days working in creative mode.
“I chose students that are lower academically up to academically gifted, and in the classroom building the computers they are equals,” Trujillo said. “We have had them thrive working on the computers. To participate the students must have exemplary behavior in the classroom as well as their regular work. They never want to miss the program. I had to cancel tutoring once, and I have not lived it down because they have been very upset and they’ve asked to make up time so that they can get more time to build these computers.”
Kenzie and Alayna hope to participate in another program with computer building. The students may get their wish because Pembroke Elementary will host a computer camp with coding and computer building this summer and school leaders are looking to expand the program next year for all fifth-grade students.
Trujillo, a 20-year teacher, said the project has been amazing.
“They are 100 percent on tasks, problem-solving, working together and thinking. You can see them thinking and working,” Trujillo said. “I had one student have to take the front case off her computer six times and every time she’s huffing and puffing, but each time she wants to do it. Even though they are challenging tasks, they want to build and move forward. The students are using problem-solving and higher order thinking skills. It helps them with language arts because they are reading. It supports math because of the problem-solving skills and it helps in the sciences. It really helps across the board.”
Tasha Oxendine is public relations officer for Public Schools of Robeson County