A teacher in the Sioux Falls school district is back in the classroom following a lengthy layoff last fall, to get his motor recharged.  This teacher stands all of two feet tall and goes by the name of Fred Juan Pablo. He’s providing hands-on, and feet-first, instructions on dancing and computer coding.

The dance, “YMCA,” is all part of the computerized calisthenics for this robot named Fred Juan Pablo.  Patrick Henry 8th grader Jersey Olszewski is programming Fred to show off his agility.

“Sometimes, I like to try other things.  I’ve done rock-paper-scissors with him,” Jersey said.  

Fred: “Let’s play rock-paper-scissors.”

Fred is on the cutting edge of teaching students all about coding.

“And with that comes problem-solving, critical thinking, things that help, no matter what fields these kids ever go into,” teacher Jason Whiting said.

Programming Fred even led to a Eureka Moment for Jersey.

Fred: “Thomas.”
Jersey: “Yes!  Hah!!!”

That kind of enthusiasm is contagious in Fred’s classroom.  Claudia Keyser is programming him to interact with students with special needs.

“I’m learning a little more about Juan Pablo himself.  Like not just people can help other people, but robots can help too, and that the world’s really advancing this way,” Claudia said.

Students also program a virtual robot from their computer screens.  But having a real robot carrying out their commands gives them a much better idea of what works, and what doesn’t.

“A virtual robot, you can get a little feel, but with working with Fred, you can actually experience it.  So when it says touch my hand, then you can actually touch the hand.  You can see your programs actually working correctly,” Claudia said.

Fred is so finely-tuned by the students, that he can take on a life of his own.  

“Even when we aren’t necessarily having him on a program, he’ll be swaying and sometimes when you pick him up, he’ll say ouch!  And it is like you actually have a little person,” Jersey said.

Perry Groten: But there were a few glitches involving Fred earlier in the school year.  His motor kept overheating so he was sent back to the manufacturer for repairs.  Fred, what was it like being away from your students for so long?

Fred: “It was really lonely because I can’t learn anything without my students.  But my motor kept running a fever.  Luckily, the company was able to fix me and now my students can learn so much!”

Fred’s feeling much better now that he’s been reunited with his students.   These classmates have rallied around their little humanoid who’s been a big influence in expanding their minds and their social circles.  

“You got kids in middle school that hang-out with each other, they got their little groups, when it comes down to this, there are no groups, it’s just everybody trying to solve a common problem and Juan Pablo does just that,” Whiting said.

The students have ambitious plans for Fred in the months ahead..  They hope to program him to write his own name by the end of the school year.  In the meantime, Fred will keep working on his dance moves.  A  little dab with do ya.

Fred: “Mr. Whiting just loves it when I dab.”

A grant furnished by the Sioux Falls Education Foundation brought Fred to Patrick Henry Middle School.  He now goes hours at a time without showing any signs of overheating.  But the manufacturer has recommended keeping an electric fan close to Fred, just in case.