Students’ Robot Helps Lead School Board Meeting

Jaxon showing off his tai chi poses. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

JACKSON – With the meeting called to order, board president Barbara Fiero started to lead the audience in the pledge of allegiance, but was interrupted. Someone else was there to lead it that night.

All eyes turned to one corner of the room, where he introduced himself as “Jaxon with an ‘x.’” And then, where his heart should be if he had one, he placed his hand over his chest and recited the pledge. Then he showed off some tai chi moves.

Jaxon isn’t a precocious, ill-timed (who does tai chi at a board of education meeting?) student in the Jackson school district. Robert Rotante, the district’s STEM curriculum coordinator, showed off Jaxon, a 2-foot-tall robot programmed by computer science students.

Rotante spoke with The Jackson Times several days later about Jaxon.

Jaxon leads the pledge of allegiance. Behind him is STEM curriculum coordinator Robert Rotante. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

He said the district purchased the robot with several ideas in mind: first, to teach the district’s computer science students the value of computer programming and get programs right.

“There’s no better way to test a program that you’re writing than to see the robot doing what you programmed it to do, and if you didn’t write the program correctly, the robot won’t do what you want it to,” Rotante said.

He showed off some more of Jaxon’s programming by letting lingering students watch the robot break into some Thrille-style dance moves.

Jaxon will eventually go into special needs classrooms and conduct lessons. The robot has facial and voice recognition, so he’ll be able to call on students and interact with them. The district believes the robot will make some special connections and breakthroughs with those special needs students.

Jaxon was purchased through Perkins grant funds, a grant specifically for technical education. The robot and curriculum cost $9,000. He’s currently shared between Liberty and Memorial high schools, but Rotante hopes the district will purchase another robot next year, again with Perkins grants, so each school will have its own robot.

“STEM really is becoming the driving force behind many careers and directions society is going in, the ability for our kids to understand technology not just as their smart phone or not just going to a website, but that technology controls what’s going on in engineering, science, medicine, mathematics, being able to understand that correlation is really important,” he said.