With a growing focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, students in the Fulton City School District recently had a chance to explore these areas of study during a summer robotics program.
The four-week program for eighth and ninth-grade students challenged participants to use their imaginations and knowledge to create robots capable of picking up objects and performing other tasks.
The students used VEX robotics kits containing hundreds of parts. After nearly 50 hours of meticulously assembling the pieces, the students had fully functioning robots equipped with motors, moving arms and wheels.
“The kids dove right in and opened up the VEX kits and got to work,” said Fulton Junior High School technology teacher Patrick Armet, who led the program. “There was some trial and error, but they did their own troubleshooting to figure out what the issue was, and the end result was great. They did a nice job from where they started to where they finished.”
Although the robots were built with parts from a kit, students put their own spin on each one.
Participants adjusted gear ratios, upgraded motors and wheels, and modified the arms for maximum performance, giving each robot its own unique look and capabilities.
The functionality of each robot was put to the test during a competition on the final day of the program.
Similar to the statewide competition held annually, participants maneuvered their creations in a Plexiglas ring full of obstacles and items that had to be picked up and placed into a tube. Using a hand-held control device, students made their robots follow their commands.
“I thought it was a lot of fun,” said Caitlyn McAfee, a ninth-grader in the district. “It makes me think about a future job in engineering. This program taught me a lot about engineering and how important it is in everyday life.”
Armet and G. Ray Bodley High School technology teacher Mike Thurlow said they hope this experience generates a buzz among students, especially at the lower grade levels.
Last year, the junior high school launched a 10-week robotics unit as part of Gateway to Technology, a nationwide feeder program for Project Lead the Way. That initiative gave students an opportunity to apply their understanding of real-world technologies and allowed them to show creativity in the STEM fields.
“We want to get kids excited about robotics and have them continue on at the high school level and potentially explore a career in that field,” Armet said. “We’ve had such great support from the district … we’re going to do robotics with all eighth-grade students this year. That continuity from the junior high school to the high school is important.”