BOTS: Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools

An initiative of USC Viterbi VAST Program

VAST:  USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering brings innovative STEM projects, programs, and professional development to PreK-12 schools and teachers in Southern California through VAST - Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher - the research-based component of USC Viterbi’s STEM outreach. VAST uses research results to improve the college and career pathways of under-represented minorities in high needs, at-risk schools. We mentor PreK-12 teachers and students on campus by embedding them in USC Viterbi faculty research labs. Learn more...

Introduction: BOTS

Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS) fosters digital equity in three East LA elementary schools via a Community of Practice of 10 teachers & USC Robotics, co-creating scalable & affordable inschool robotics/coding to build student computational thinking & support LAUSD Tech goals.

Teachers play with Robots

The teachers at the partner Elementary Schools fell in love with the robots at the recent hands-on encounter. The teachers stopped by to learn how easy it is to code a robot as part of the process of recruiting teachers to participate in USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (USC VAST)'s new program, Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS). 
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Three East LA Partner Elementary Schools:

  • Sheridan Street Elementary School
  • Murchison Street Elementary School
  • St. Odilia School

BOTS Logic Model

Goal: To help teachers and students in East LA gain equal access to 21st century digital skills, building demonstrable ability in computational thinking and understanding of the social significance of computer science.


Program Description

Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS) is a strategic solution to the well-documented problem of unequal access to 21st century digital skills within East Los Angeles schools serving low income neighborhoods (Margolis et al). BOTS helps build digital equity by forming a Research-Practitioner Partnership between three East LA elementary schools, USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST), and the Specialty Family Foundation to support ten first- and second-grade teachers in a robotics-based Community of Practice (COP) throughout the 2018-19 academic year. By boosting teacher ability and self-confidence to teach coding and introduce robots as authentic, real-world digital learning opportunities, BOTS pilots a sustainable solution to the need identified in the 2016 recommendations by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)’s Instructional Technology (IT) Task Force: “[p]rofessional learning opportunities for all stakeholders [are] imperative to educate leaders on how to incorporate digital learning tools and how to adapt instruction to the opportunities afforded by digital tools” (15). BOTS’ goal is to empower teachers to teach coding and robotics activities that produce measurable impact in computational thinking among their 1st- and 2nd-grade students so that schools can to “skillfully mentor and inspire students to amplify learning with technology and challenge them to be agents of their own learning” (IT Task Force 17) and stop outsourcing tech teaching to costly third-party vendors or to volunteers with intermittent commitment or funding. Learn more...


LAUSD Instructional Tech Initiative Recommendations

Margolis, Jane et al. Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing (MIT, 2017)


Figure 1 and 2: Sphero SPRK+ robot, which can be programmed through the Sphero Edu app on a tablet or smart phone.

Needs Statement

There is no longer any question that even very young children are capable of STEM modes of inquiry, reasoning, and persistence; they enjoy and benefit throughout advancing school years from hands-on work with coding, robotics, and computer science. By the time today’s 1st graders complete high school in 2029, digital fluency will require sophisticated computational thinking and thorough understanding of the role of computers and artificial intelligence in our society. Robotics is not a game but a tangible, authentic and proven age-appropriate way to launch 6-8-year-old children toward lifelong digital agency. Learn more...