Portmore Missionary Prep using robotics to engage students

ETTA Walker, principal of Portmore Missionary Preparatory & Kindergarten School, is on a drive to make her school a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) powerhouse.

The 47-year-old St Catherine-based institution has been taking steps to ensure that all of its students, from kindergarten to grade six, gain additional competence in STEM by launching a Robotics Department.

The objective is to further engage students with new approaches to learning. This is in addition to the school’s arts programme, which has become renowned for its dancing and music.

“Since we launched the Robotics Department two years ago we have seen the benefits of the initiative. Many of our students who were sometimes not enthusiastic about learning the traditional subjects now look forward to our robotics class because it gives them the opportunity to build something and actively participate in learning,” Walker explained.

“We started the robotics programme two years ago because we also wanted to prepare our children for the future and find creative ways to keep them interested in learning. The Robotics Department currently serves students in grades 4 to 6, but we want to extend it to the entire school because we have seen the positive results of the project,” added Walker.

Robotics teacher, Cavaugh Edwards noted that the department was established in 2018 when the school was exploring ways to engage students in using more technology.

“We were trying to find ways to engage our students more, rather than have them sit around a computer doing just information technology-related activities. The school made contact with Wayne Thompson, a lecturer at The Mico University [College] who teaches computational thinking and programming and who facilitated the training of several of the prep school’s teachers,” said Edwards.

According to Edwards he, along with the Vice-Principal Shana Barnett-McCallum and two other teachers, went through this training using VEX Robotics from a company which specializes in robotics, and the company assisted them to develop a curriculum.

“We purchased five robotics kits and were introduced to the robotics software which allowed us to control the robots. We then worked on using it to engage the students in the classroom.

“Prior to the [novel coronavirus] pandemic we enjoyed success as the students were motivated to use their mechanical skills, mathematics abilities and computational thinking to program the robots,” added Edwards.

He said that one of the VEX Robotics kits allowed the students to build a robot and program it to go through a maze.

Observing the success of the programme, Walker and her team decided to expand the initiative to all students.

However, such a project required additional funds and so to raise the money, the top students were invited to seek sponsorship as part efforts to develop their leadership abilities.

“At Portmore Missionary Prep School we believe that our head students must be rounded and leave a legacy behind. We also believe that they should be leaders who are active within the school community,” Walker revealed.

The students were given the charge to identify an initiative that would benefit the school and to find ways to deliver on their commitment.

Walker said former deputy head girl, Renae Escoe was successful in getting sponsorship from JN Money, the National Housing Trust, a few other companies, as well as family and friends.

These funds she used to purchase several robotics kits, STEM toys, activity books and a smart TV for the school.

“I am grateful to JN Money for its donation because this will enable us to introduce the programme to all the students as we become an institution that focuses on STEM learning. The television received will be placed in our STEM lab to benefit the students. We are already known for our arts programme, and this will ensure we [also] have an excellent STEM curriculum,” declared Walker.

In the meantime, Sanya Wallace, senior manager, strategic planning and marketing at JN Money, said the company was pleased to partner with Portmore Missionary Preparatory & Kindergarten School and support its STEM initiative “because it ensures that our children are well-positioned for the future where STEM learning will be pivotal in job creation and efficient functionality. This is the first time for JN Money, as it pertains to our involvement in a STEM initiative such as this one, and we are proud to be contributing positively to the development of our children through education”, said Wallace.

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