October 16, 2017
Four Wossman High School students were gathered around a small, wheeled robot and working with two laptops to find the the right programming file for it. After much searching, they determined that the file they needed had been deleted from the shared laptop.
All the code that acted as the brains for the robot, called a Boe-Bot, would have to be rewritten.
The teacher, Ortadius Brass, pointed out that he’d told them to back up the file to a separate drive to protect their work.
It was a clear example of real-world problem solving, complete with consequences.
The Cyber Literacy classes offered by Monroe City Schools were created in collaboration with the city of Monroe, CenturyLink and the Cyber Innovation Center. This is the first semester that students are getting this training, which is part of an overall job readiness program.
CenturyLink and the Cyber Innovation Center stay in close contact to ensure the schools have the most up-to-date STEM curriculum information.
CenturyLink also stays in regular contact with all three high schools to help ensure they have what they need to implement the curriculum. The company also assists with a location for teacher training and provides employee volunteers who can work with students to enhance the STEM learning experience.
Serena White, curriculum supervisor for Monroe City Schools, said this program will offer a college track and Jump Start options. By the end of the year, she’ll determine with the Cyber Innovation Center what certifications the students will work toward, such as A+ or Microsoft certification, so they can be employed immediately after graduation.
Other students could go on to pursue degrees in computer science, cyber, pure mathematics or engineering.
White said she wants the community to know the district is thinking of both groups of students and planning opportunities for both.
Across the district, about 100 students registered. Wossman and Neville each had 40 students sign up, so each has two sections of the classes. About 20 signed up at Carroll. White said it’s based on how many students signed up and is in line with the number of students at each school.
Wossman has a smaller population than Neville, White said, but the school developed a robotics team last year, which likely fueled interest. Because Wossman’s leadership jumped on board with robotics, she said it’s added to students interest.
Eric Davis, principal at Wossman, said the school is still in the early stages and building interest in the program. That will take time, but the teachers are energetic and draw students into the subject matter.
Neville also has a robotics team while Carroll High School is rebuilding after a staff member who ran the program moved away.
“We just want to use it as a way to expose our students to the job availability for their future. You know, what the industry is going to look like when they graduate and then let the community know we’re preparing our students to be successful and fill the need that they have for employment,” Wossman Assistant Principal Roxi Mackens said.
Cyber attracts students, she said, but they’re able to build an entire technology program around that. They’re able to start the technology discussions early.
Brass teaches the freshman session of Cyber Literacy I. The other section is for upperclassmen.
“Kids learn better with hands-on, practical learning, and so instead of just trying to lecture this, ‘hey, let’s do blah, blah, blah” — that’s boring. You know, we live in an age where kids get bored quick. I’m 31, and I get bored quick, so imagine them,” Brass said.
In addition to the students working on the Boe-Bot, another group was designing a Styrofoam house that they’re going to wire with electricity. One student was in the corner practicing cryptography, or code cracking.
“Everything’s problem solving,” Brass said. It’s important, he said, for students to be able to work out their own issues. He said they need to be able to apply math to real-world scenarios.
“But a lot of these kids, they’ve never had a day of coding or anything like that,” Brass said.
White said she’s working with CenturyLink so that students who are more interested in programming gain experience, and Mackens said a Wossman alum works at IBM and helps the classes get mentors from the company.
“What we find out, really, it’s deeper than just making a robot move, when it comes to cyber. So, when it comes to cyber, putting a robot together is the least of it all, almost, as you go to these competitions,” Brass said.
When taking part in Cyber Discovery, a student competition hosted by Louisiana Tech University, one of the team’s weaknesses was cryptography. It includes breaking codes, hacking and figuring out symbols.
Brass said the Christmas Day 2014 attacks against Playstation and Xbox were part of a cyber war.
“Putting together a Boe-bot is great, but cryptography is what teaches you how to make us secure so things like that won’t happen,” Brass said.
To prepare for competitions, he said, it’s like creating a sports team. Each student has a position to practice.
Brass said the teens are creative and improvise. He held up a race car that previous students built for competition and said the body was cut by the school’s machine shop. The students make use of what they can find to improve projects.
White said later in the curriculum, there will be a lot of discussion about networking and social issues like bullying and privacy. The students will be writing essays.
At competition, Brass said, the essay portion involves explaining how you can tell if an email is real or a scam. It’s about observations they use to decipher clues.
As part of Cyber Discovery, the team had to build a race car and develop and present a business plan. They came in second place overall.
Davis said students in the cyber program set up and operate a camera that’s lifted high over the field during football games.
Long-term, he said, they plan to get the students accustomed to drones.
Mackins said ideally, the cyber students would build a drone and take video, then the computer technology literacy students would edit the footage in Adobe and put it on the school website. It’s about working collaboratively and developing a sense of technology before they graduate.
White said the program exposes students to careers they might not otherwise know about and the certifications and degrees required for each.
“It’s no more competing with jobs around here no more. You’ve got to compete globally. If you’re not preparing kids for competing against kids from China or Hong Kong or whatever, then I think we’re defeating them,” Brass said. “If you don’t teach a kid for global, you’re cheating them.”