Trending: Gov. Inslee on President Trump and COVID-19: ‘We need to make decisions based on science, reality’
Sae Kang, third grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle, watches with students as a FIRST LEGO robot goes through its paces on Tuesday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

It was already pajama day in Sae Kang’s third grade class at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle on Tuesday. Things got even better when students were presented with the opportunity to play with LEGOs and robots as part of an event put on by Amazon, Seattle Public Schools and FIRST Washington.

Amazon and the school district announced a new partnership to bring computer science and robotics to up to 30 Title 1 schools in Seattle as part of the Amazon Future Engineer program. The tech giant will provide each school with a grant to inspire students from underrepresented and underserved communities to embrace science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The schools will receive support to launch FIRST robotics teams.

Launched last November, Amazon Future Engineer is taking the childhood-to-career approach to inspire and educate children and young adults. It’s part of Amazon’s $50 million investment in computer science/STEM education. The company has donated more than $10 million to organizations that promote such programs across the country.

Students gather around a FIRST robotics mentor as their project is set in motion. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In a crowded classroom on Tuesday, about 20 students worked with FIRST robotics alumni as they pieced together parts of a small LEGO robot before setting the programmed machines in motion on a designated course. FIRST Washington inspires young people through mentor-based robotics programs to pursue STEM careers, and at various grade levels kids compete in tournaments throughout the school year. GeekWire hosted one such event at the GeekWire Bash in March.

“I try to instill curiosity within our students, because they live in technology,” said Kang, who is in her fifth year at John Muir. “This year we’ve been doing a lot of engineering challenges, so little by little we’ve been embedding a little more STEM curriculum in our classroom.”

Posters on the classroom walls teach the students various fundamentals in reading, writing and math. The words “Dream Big” stand out. Kang said her students are at an age where they’re curious and motivated enough to take on new challenges, and instilling confidence in them early is inspiring.

Third graders followed LEGO instructions to create a working, autonomous robot. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

“They can make things, they can create things,” Kang said. “One of my students said, ‘I want to be an astronaut.’ She wants to go to space. So it’s like, ‘Well, if you want to go to space, how do you think that works?’ They’re all problem solvers, which is amazing. Just the way that they think, it surprises me. Because I’m also learning with them.”

FIRST Washington President Erin McCallum said it’s important to invest in homegrown talent, and that each and every kid has the opportunity to become an engineer.

“It’s fantastic that Seattle Public Schools seized this opportunity and Amazon has put some muscle behind it,” McCallum said. “Our coaches and mentors and alumni are thrilled to make it happen!”

Amazon VP Beth Galetti, right, addresses students alongside Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Beth Galetti, senior vice president of human resources at Amazon, stressed the important of providing the opportunity to students from underrepresented communities.

“It’s extremely important for us to foster talent everywhere Amazon is, and [in Seattle] we want to be a really good neighbor,” Galetti said. “We know that many of the students here have heard about Amazon, so for us it’s a great opportunity to expose them to some of what we have to offer and hopefully inspire a few minds to want to innovate and maybe invent on behalf of customers with us.”

Amazon will be taking students to a fulfillment center in Kent, Wash., for a private tour to show them robotics in action and offer another touchpoint for budding technologists.

Amazon’s fulfillment logo is visible on table where robots where put in motion at John Muir Elementary. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The Future Engineers program extends from kindergarten all the way through college, where scholarships and guaranteed internships are offered. Three high school seniors from Washington were among 100 winners to receive the first “Amazon Future Engineer” scholarships in April.

Here are the Seattle schools currently confirmed to participate:

  • High schools – Rainier Beach High School.
  • Middle schools – Denny Middle School, Washington Middle School.
  • K-8 schools – Broadview Thomson K-8 School, Licton Springs K-8 School, South Shore PreK-8 School.
  • Elementary schools – Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Beacon Hill International Elementary School, Captain Stephen E. Sanislo Elementary School, Concord International Elementary School, Dearborn Park International Elementary School, Dunlap Elementary School, Emerson Elementary School, Hawthorne Elementary School, Highland Park Elementary School, John Muir Elementary School, Kimball Elementary School, Leschi Elementary School, Lowell Elementary School, Madrona Elementary School, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Olympic Hills Elementary School, Sand Point Elementary School, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, Van Asselt Elementary School, West Seattle Elementary School, Wing Luke Elementary School.

The theme for the 2019 FIRST season was “Into Orbit,” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. For 2020, FIRST is going deeper into the galaxy and teaming with Disney on a “Star Wars” theme. Check out a familiar face promoting that below:

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Executive AssistantRad Power Bikes
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.