This originial article was published by the Turtle Mountain Star on April 11, 2022 by Jason Nordmark.
A new kind of teacher joined the staff at St. John School, but he skips the morning coffee for fear of shorting out some circuits.
Milo is a facially-expressive humanoid robot and has already been on the job for a few weeks. St. John is the first school in North Dakota with the technology. St. John Elementary Principal Sherry Tandeski said 10 staff members did some extensive training before Milo’s debut. The robot came with his own curriculum.
“I think Milo is going to help with the overall emotional welfare of our kids because the way they are connecting with him is so different,” Tandeski said. She added the robot’s measured reactions to students and patience with them are consistent. “The kids give more to the robot because they are looking at it as a play therapy,” Tandeski said.
Milo was developed by RoboKind, a company that assists special educators in teaching students with developmental differences the social skills needed for emotional regulation, conversations and other scenarios. The program combines a facially-expressive robot with an evidence-based curriculum, take-home activities, and professional learning to improve mastery and generalization.
The company’s own research has shown that students engage with robots at a rate of 87.5 percent of the time verses just 2 percent to 3 percent with a human therapist alone.
“I know we can do a better job of integrating social-emotional skills into everyday lessons, especially for our pre-k and Kindergarten students,” said Tandeski “Social skills like making eye contact, self-regulation, and how to act during a play date don’t come naturally to many of our students. Using Milo will provide our kids with clear instruction and repetitive practice to incorporate these social skills into their everyday lives.”
Milo’s trip to St. John began in January at an autism conference in Texas. Tandeski attended the event and walked by the RoboKind booth and saw Milo and was a bit skeptical.
“I thought, ‘OK, what’s the catch?’” Tandeski said. After visiting with the company personnel and then researching it more that evening, she came to a conclusion. “I liked what I saw,” the principal said. “It made sense to me.”
Right now, Milo is completing sessions students that need social and emotional help, kids that “shut down” or display other similar behaviors.
According to RoboKind, Milo was developed with the assistance of autism experts, advocates, learning professionals, and educators, the evidence-based program leverages speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and applied behavioral analysis principles.
“Milo is going to help a whole group of kids and in the long run that’s going to be very beneficial,” Tandeski said.
She added that after the pandemic, every school was looking for curriculums related to social and emotional well-being. The life-like, even-keeled Milo is now working with St. John students on those aspects of life, which Tandeski said are essential to their education.
“Our plan is to get as many kids exposed to Milo as we can,” Tandeski said. “We’re very fortunate to have him.”