Students in the South Huntington School District have lots to say about the future of technology -- and now it's talking back.
The district has unveiled its latest teaching tool, NAO, a voice-activated, 2-foot-tall, moving, grooving programmable educational robot that introduced itself.
"I am so happy to be here," NAO (pronounced Now) said to the crowd assembled in the library at Stimson Middle School after rising to its feet and saying more than quite a few words.
Thanks to a $30,000 grant from the South Huntington Educational Foundation, the district was able to purchase one full robot and two torsos in an effort to engage its students in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM. The cost also includes training for the educators.
"We're providing an opportunity for students to be exposed to STEM in a really innovative and engaging way," Jared Bloom, supervisor of assessment and technology for the district, said. "And we're opening their eyes to the types of careers that are going to be open to them when they eventually graduate, and right now we're providing them with the college and career-ready skills that they need to move up through the grades."
Last year, the district offered a pilot program at Silas Wood Sixth Grade STEM Academy to 23 students to get hands-on experience programming NAO to do such things as dance and recite poetry.
"It's amazing," Liam Rea, 12, said. "How much it can do, how much we make it do and how much there is to know and learn about it."
Liam, who participated in the pilot program, said he had been thinking about being an author when he grows up, but after working with NAO, is considering a career in programming.
District administrators are hoping other students are inspired by NAO and the many possibilities and imagination that working with it can trigger. To begin, students in kindergarten through 12th grade will have the opportunity to work with NAO in before- and after-school programs; students in sixth through eighth grades will focus on coding.
Eventually robotics will be integrated into the district's entire curriculum.
"Last year we did a lot of fun things," said Arpan Bhomia, 12, who was part of the pilot program. "We worked with a team, and it will be fun to learn new programs and become more advanced in what we do."
The district purchased NAO from TEQ, a Huntington Station-based educational technology company that recently became a corporate partner with the district, helping to support district development initiatives.
Andrew Ferreri, 12, a future architect, said he had been concerned that when the pilot program ended it would be the last time he would be able to use NAO. "I'm really excited to be able to use it again. You can do so many different things with it," he said.
He said what he has learned will come in handy one day.
"Working with NAO gives me a better understanding of technology so when I'm an architect and if a client needs a certain thing, with the technology I've learned, I'll know exactly what to do."