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Say Hello To Mr. Roboto 

South Huntington students who attended the five-day Roboteer Camp look on as the NAO robot dances to “Stayin’ Alive” at Stimson Middle School Wednesday.

Innovative technology, meet innovative school district. The South Huntington Union Free School District on Wednesday became the first on Long Island to incorporate NAO robots inside the classroom.

A five-day pilot program held this summer through the Silas Wood 6th Grade Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy led to the district’s acquisition of three cutting-edge robots on Wednesday.

NAO is the humanoid model robot made by Aldebaran Robotics. The robots can talk, tell stories, dance and can even assume some yoga poses.

According to Jared Bloom, the district’s supervisor of assessment and technology, the robots, over the next several months, will be phased in to before- and after-school programs as well as classrooms.

The district will train teachers on how to use the technology in the classroom, not only in science-based classrooms but also in English and math. While a long-term goal is district-wide implementation, the present focus will be on sixth- through eighth-graders.

“Sixth grade is really the entry point for exposing kids to STEM learning. By trying to get students really engaged by the time they get to high school, they will be more excited for programming classes and even for their careers,” Bloom said.

TEQ, a Huntington Station-based educational technology development company, provided the summer program with one NAO robot to use. The five-day program, dubbed Camp Roboteer, led by TEQ representatives and teachers from the district, allowed 20 students with an interest in STEM subjects to learn the “basics” of robot programming.

The enthusiastic group of students, now mostly seventh-graders at Stimson Middle School, said they were amazed by what the NAO robots can do.

“It’s a very advanced robot… It’s more than meets the eye,” said Maxwell Fisher, a student participant and robot enthusiast.

The NAO robot on Wednesday even put on an impressive dance performance to the 1970s Bee Gee’s classic “Stayin’ Alive.”

“The movements are hard [to program]… They’re smooth in movement and very life-like,” Andrew Ferreri, a roboteer student, said.

Students and educators can access the TEQ, NAO-certified software from a computer at home or in the classroom. From the computer, students can program the robot to say virtually anything and move in any direction. The more complex the movement, the more challenging it is to program.

According to Charles Ciravolo, chairperson of the nonprofit South Huntington Educational Foundation, the foundation raised approximately $30,000 to buy the three robots from TEQ.

“With budget cuts we won’t be able to provide these programs and it’s important, because kids need to be technologically advanced to compete in the real world today,” Ciravolo said.

Jimmy Alvarez, a Camp Roboteer graduate, was so encouraged by his summer experience that he created a program for the robot from home. Using the words of his favorite poem, “Ode To The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, he designed a program instructing the robot to recite Poe’s words in its entirety.

Joe Dixon, chief of learning at TEQ, said the local partnership will even allow young children at the kindergarten level to benefit from robot technology.

Bloom agreed, and said students in younger classrooms will be able to listen to stories, written and programmed for the robots by older students, in the classroom.

“It’s limitless. All of our schools will have access to the software and coding information,” Bloom said.

He added that it will also help implement the state’s new Common Core standards.

Superintendent David Bennardo said the technology is an invaluable asset that will help continue to distinguish the South Huntington district.

“While the rest of the nation complains about finances, we’re going to keep moving forward,” Bennardo said. “We’re making remarkable things possible when resources are slim.”

Student graduates of the 2013 roboteer camp included Andrew Borges, Arpan Bhomia, Jack Cox, Michael Morra, Michael Barnowski, Jimmy Alvarez, Zack Slansky, Andrew Ferreri, Maxwell Fisher, Liam Rea and David Grajales.

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