Higley District middle school students get hands-on STEM training in robotics classes - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Higley District middle school students get hands-on STEM training in robotics classes

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2014 8:34 am | Updated: 1:08 pm, Fri Apr 18, 2014.

What could be better than a roller coaster ride down the Grand Canyon?

Students in John Burke’s robotics class at Higley’s Sossaman Middle School in Queen Creek hope to create this fun attraction – albeit in miniature scale.

The opening of Sossaman and Cooley Middle Schools this year in the Higley Unified School District means more class options for students. Now, seventh and eighth graders can take STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) electives including Applied Technology, Robotics, Computer Applications and Computer Foundations.

Robotics is a popular class at both schools.

Mr. Burke’s class at Sossaman Middle School in Queen Creek is divided into different “departments” of a made-up corporation (“Burke, Inc.”). One group works on R&D (research and development), another on engineering and a third on mechanics.

Students work for one “department” for a few weeks then switch, so they get to experience all the different projects Mr. Burke plans for them.

It’s the R&D group that’s creating the Grand Canyon roller coaster and trying to answer all the logistical questions that may arise.

“It’s difficult. You have to build it so it’s sturdy enough,” said student Quinn O’Rourke. Students are using K’Nex building products for their model.

Quinn said the two STEM classes he’s taken have sparked an interest in a future career.

“We’ve learned a lot. Last semester (Applied Technology), we learned about planes – the thrust, drag, the kinetic energy elements. This semester, we’re building robots,” said O'Rourke. “When I’m older, now I want to be an engineer.”

The mechanics group is working on a Rube Goldberg challenge to create a complex device to do a simple task, such as picking up a Kleenex, as well as building and programming a VEX robot.

“It’s a lot different than what we’re used to doing in school,” said Trevor DeRaps. “You learn about old inventors and how they impacted the world.”

“It’s fun, said Jeremy Cintron. “You don’t sit there. You get to actually do something.”

The final group – engineering – is part of a University of Arizona pilot program (Engineering 101 MS). Students recently worked on a “solar house” challenge, measuring how the radiant heat transfer process affects the temperature of an insulated Dixie cup. Mr. Burke and the students traveled down to the University of Arizona campus as part of the program.

“You’re learning to check data and seeing what are some of the mistakes that you make,” Mr. Burke told the students as they put their experiments under lamps. “When you move it, every time, that changes the controls of the experiments and releases heat.”

The experience students are gaining could lead to advanced classes at Higley High, which now has the Project Lead the Way engineering program. Higley’s Project Lead the Way Honors Engineering Program recently partnered with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to provide engineering students the opportunity to earn dual credit for Honors Introduction to Engineering and Honors Principals of Engineering .Students will receive 3 university credits for ENGR 101 and 3 university credits for ENGR 115, but only pay a community college rate. These Higley High students can then be part of the STEM Ahead program, which allows them to enter the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University as freshmen, as long as they meet the other entrance requirements.

Other popular courses involve computers. Nearly two-thirds of Sossaman’s students have gone through Brandon Large’s Computer Applications and Computer Foundations courses, he said. The classes teach students the basics, from keyboarding to Microsoft Office, and then they move onto HTML coding.

Everything, including note taking, is done on laptop computers, he said.

“At the end, they do a project where they research a career and do a Power Point presentation,” he said. “All the classes are very full. They know it’s important. I link it to what they’ll do after school in college and careers.”

The computer classes are designed to not only give students the basic career tools they need, but can lead into digital graphics and computer programming classes at Higley High School.

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