Customer Highlight: Sydney Public Schools
Rural Tech-Forward Montana School District Embraces AI and Robotics
Too often, rural schools and communities, especially those heavily supported by agriculture, find themselves behind the curve on technology. But now, as the use of technology, drones, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in ag continues to rise, it’s more important than ever that districts prepare their students for this shift.
Sidney Public Schools in Sidney, Montana is a case in point. Tom Barnhart is the curriculum Federal Programs Director for Sidney Public Schools (SPS) with approximately 100 students in the entire K-12 district.
With dual master’s degrees in educational leadership and in school counseling, Barnhart has taken on many roles to help bring his students into the 21st century. In his role as Director of Curriculum, he heard about NeuroMaker and “thought it was pretty cool.” But as Montana’s legislature recently mandated that all school districts must start a Gifted and Talented program with identification similar to what is used for special education, Barnhart saw that the NeuroMaker HAND would tie in perfectly with their upper elementary program and shared it with his teachers. With exercises and activities where students can build a prototype of a prosthetic hand and control the movement of the fingers through a brain computing interface device and coding, the team was captivated.
Bringing in an Engaging, Social Conscious Robotics Kit to Ignite Students in STEM
Barnhart’s goals were twofold: engage the students in a compelling STEM activity and revive their robotics program which had languished due to budget cuts. He was hopeful that NeuroMaker could reignite passion for the program and give students the opportunity to compete throughout Montana, and occasionally Wyoming and Colorado as well.
Like many administrators, he sees the benefit of introducing STEM earlier and providing a progression through middle school and into high school. With NeuroMaker, it was clear that the robotics curriculum could help not only prepare younger classes for the high school robotics program, but also turn it from an extracurricular to an in-class option.
Thus far, the reviews from students have been strong. What’s more, Barnhart has also seen positive feedback for the educators who play such a key role in making NeuroMaker a success. “She’s an awesome teacher,” is a common refrain from students.
NeuroMaker has done more than just engage the students. It has helped the high school kids from the robotics club bond with the upper elementary students through building the NeuroMaker HAND prototype. This does more than build relationships; it allows the older students the opportunity to teach and lead.
Aligning a Cutting-Edge Academic Program with Local Industry in a Supportive Community
Another inspiring example of SPS’ dedication to bringing cutting-edge STEM technology to their district is that they are the only school district in the area that has added an FDA-approved Anatomage table (basically a 3D dissection table with human and/or animal anatomy), used by major universities and their medical and veterinary programs.
“Because we’re in a rural community with many students wanting to go into Veterinary Sciences….and you can do it without the smell of Formaldehyde.” Barnhart quipped.
And Barnhart is looking beyond the classroom. Local industry will play a direct role in SPS STEM plans. They are considering bringing drone technology to their STEM programs to potentially apply this exciting technology for local farmers and across the community.
“Sidney has an extremely supportive community,” Barnhart continues, “Actually, we just went through our five-year long range goal setting for the next five years and 10 years and communication and interaction with our community is one of our top three priorities. We have an Ag Research Center here that would be great to tie into, we have a local sugar beet factory that is more than willing to work with us. We’ve never had a business say no when we’ve approached them about wanting to do something with them. So we’ve got the school board in place to make these things happen, and when it’s the right time, we will head in that direction.”
Finding captivating student activities and achieving high test scores while keeping up with constantly-evolving standards and changing time blocks can be a challenge for any administrator. But problem-based and hands-on STEM experiences for the students like NeuroMaker are giving hope for the future. “Now that we’ve gotten the robotics program back, the next step for me would be to try to get the coding program back. We’ve got to get our kids prepared for what they’re going to experience out there. And coding is going to play a huge role in their lives for the next century.”
Future Partnering with NeuroMaker: The Importance of Stellar Customer Experience
Educators are busy and they do not have time to chase down vendors, especially in a lively classroom. School districts are often now carefully selecting vendors that are responsive, and truly support educators through the implementation process, especially when starting a new program. “NeuroMaker has been great to work with,” says Barnhart. “From the very first call that I had, through the process – it’s been wonderful. I am looking forward to seeing what else we can [do] in the future. The more products that you develop, the happier I am to bring that into our school system.”