Navarro Elementary has a new teacher in its classrooms.
With a friendly face and smile, and spiked brown hair, the new instructor isn’t actually human, but in fact a humanoid robot name Milo.
Since the fall semester, Milo has worked with a group of kindergartners and third-grade students on the autism spectrum to practice their communication and social skills.
“He can walk and talk. He delivers social skills and he’s got a little TV on his chest that show icons as he’s talking,” Navarro ISD behavioral specialist Tracey Guetzke said.
Decked out in a blue and orange suit with black shoes, Milo, which was created by Robots4Autism can even break out in a dance.
Through his green eyes, which are actually miniature computers, Milo can read the facial expressions of the children he’s working with.
Twice a week for 30 minutes, a student is pulled out of their class to work individually with Milo. While Guetzke or teacher Heather Walker, sit beside the student, it’s Milo whose doing all the teaching, Guetzke said.
“Milo pretty much does the whole lesson. So Milo does the lesson first and each lesson lasts about 12 to 15 minutes and then the last 15 minutes we play games and practice the things that Milo has taught them,” she said.
During the lessons, the students watch short video clips on a tablet that depict the behavioral skills Milo is teaching done both correctly and incorrectly. The students are then asked yes or no questions to determine which behavior is correct, the Robots4Autism website said.
The students also use visual cards Guetzke made that feature the icons from the screen on Milo’s chest.
“It just kind of gives them that visual in the classroom to connect to Milo,” she said.
So far, Milo’s lessons have focused on how the children can calm themselves down using different strategies such as counting to 10, saying “I’m angry,” take a break, use a squeeze ball or take deep breaths.
Next, they’re going to start working on how to carry conversations and how to address people when they walk into the room, Guetzke said.
“When Milo talks it’s at a slow rate and he gives the icon on his chest so the kids can see a picture and hear it verbally at a slower rate, so they can process at the same time,” she said. “One of the nice things about Milo is he can do a lesson over and over again and his voice stays exactly the same.”
The student engagement with Milo is about 87.5 percent or 52.5 minutes while with a human it’s usually only 2.5 percent or 1.5 minutes, the Robots4Autism website said.
Since the district brought Milo into the classroom, Guetzke said they’ve seen behavioral differences in the students.
“Kids that have tantrums are not lasting as long,” she said. “When they present them with ‘What would Milo do’ they’ll start to do the strategies that he’s talked about. They can either present it through words or through a board I give them … I can tell one of our kindergarteners who throws himself on the floor ‘What would Milo do’ and he starts taking deep breaths.”
Guetzke said she’s watched several videos from other teachers around the country who use Milo in their classroom and how he’s benefited their students.
“Teachers in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin are using him in their autism units and one parent said within the six weeks their child started working with Milo he walked up to the neighbors he had known for 10 years of his life and actually shook his hand for the first time,” Guetzke said.
By using Milo, Guetzke hopes the students can become independent in the classroom.
Some other benefits of working with Milo, include understanding human emotion and expanded vocabulary, the Robots4Autism website said.
Eventually, Guetzke wants to bring Milo to other grade levels and use him with groups of children and not just individually.
“They have to be pulled out because it’s one-on-one training with the younger ones,” she said. “I’m trying to do smaller groups … The school in Wisconsin is using him in about groups of five, but we’re not there yet. We’re using him about two or three.”
Milo was obtained using a Title IV grant that focuses on using “innovative and structural technology” in the classroom.
“He actually does not belong to us, but he is a lease,” Navarro ISD chief instructional officer Lacey Gosch said at a Monday school board meeting. “We actually have some federal dollars that we’re provided through the Title IV grant that can be used for innovative uses of technology. The company that runs Milo doesn’t allow you to buy Milo. They lease it to you for three years and then they’ll lease you a new one after three years.”
After paying for the leasing amount, the district just pays for Milo’s software yearly, Gosch said.
Using additional grant funds, Gosch said they’ll be able to get a second Milo for the Intermediate School soon.