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Educator Spotlight, Joe Miller from Northridge High School

February 17, 2023 — 3 minutes

Creating a Pathway for Students to become Makers!

Northridge High School was eager to kick off its new Computer Science department. So they had a meeting room – modified into a Maker Space. Spare pandemic funding – converted into STEM Robots. And last but not least, a Social Studies teacher – transitioned to full-time Computer Science Instructor! It’s halfway through the school year and students have made a habit of stopping in the hallway to try and get a glimpse of what’s happening in the maker space. Joe Miller, the former Social Studies teacher convert, doesn’t think he’ll have the slightest problem filling class seats next year.

“We had some basic computer apps being taught in class – but nothing at the top for our more ambitious students. They were looking for a nerd and I stepped up!” Explains Joe with a laugh, who is still finishing up his qualifications for his Computer Science Teaching certification. However, class is already underway – with Joe leading both the Computer Science and Advanced Manufacturing courses. One of Joe’s favorite tools so far has been DroneBlocks’ Quadruped Robot Dog program. Not only does it drum up excitement for students, but it bridges the gap for both the Coders and the Makers. In Advanced Manufacturing, it’s all about making. Students are encouraged to learn practical building skills – their current task is designing and building a stand for the Go1 Robot Dog. They will also learn how robotics are used in a manufacturing setting, using much of the same technology present in the Go1 Robot Dog. For the Computer Science class, they are knee-deep in Javascript, coding the Robot Dog to dance, and are already on to meddling with MQTT and the ROS.

As DroneBlocks works to build out more and more Go1 Robot Dog learning materials, Joe and his students have taken it upon themselves to explore uncharted territory. They are already using the DroneBlocks curriculum as a jumping-off point. Just as Joe enjoys finding his own way in the STEM Teaching space, he finds his students enjoying the exploration aspect of the Robot Dog program. “Having them come up with their own projects motivates them. The pure learning of –

I’m curious and you’re gonna turn me loose to do it?

It gives them ownership.” Joe explains how one student took the lead on the Robot Dog, taking it home for a few days and then leading a demo in front of the class on how to pull the API and install a node through Javascript. In true Computer Science fashion, the students took it upon themselves to create a randomized name selector code in Python to name their dog, the code ultimately settled on “Churchill.”

Churchill’s latest task was a demonstration for the district’s elementary school students. Joe can already sense a snowball effect of student interest. His goal is to continue nurturing the STEM pipeline of students to garner excitement for Computer Science and Advanced Manufacturing courses by the time they arrive in High School: “They are interested in it, that’s the key. They are invested!” Churchill’s next performance will be a student-orchestrated demo for the School Board. Students are putting the final touches on an algorithm that will display many of the Robot Dogs’ dynamic capabilities and everything they have learned so far. It will likely be a testament to Joe’s new Computer Science endeavors as well as the DroneBlocks Go1 Robot Dog investment.

DroneBlocks is hard at work preparing new guides and materials to help educators like Joe keep the momentum going. When asked, Joe let us know that he would really love to see a “Smorgasbord of entry points” or a sort of sampler course on how to access each and every aspect of the Robot Dog and then let the students take the exploration to the deeper levels. Joe’s philosophy is, to open the doors and let the students decide where they want to invest their energy…and it sure seems to be working!

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