The future of science, technology, engineering and mathmetics instruction for certain Denison students recently became a little brighter thanks to a new course designed to challenge their creativity and science skills.
Teacher Elana Kinghorn teaches a LEGO Mindstorm Robotics class using robot kits to teach students how to combine ingenuity and creativity. The students learn how to program the robots using a computer before meticulously testing the robot to ensure it behaves according to the instructions.
“This group is their ninth week with the robots,” Kinghorn said. “The students have been able to program them in a lot of ways. They can go straight, back up, turn a number of degrees, sense colors and objects and make sounds for playback.”
The students can configure their robots into different forms for various tasks. The basic kit resembled a radio-controlled car with some advanced sensors and motors. One student took his apart and turned it into a robot arm capable of picking up a small item and then releasing it.
Sixth grade student Grace Murray was turning her kit into a robot dog she hoped to program to pick up a make-shift bone using the tools of the kit.
“This is a wonderful chance for all of us to come in and get to do things outside the box a little bit,” Murray said. “I want to be a rocket engineer. I love building. I have a huge Lego city in my house. I love programming, it is a lot of fun.”
Murray said she enjoys the class because she gets bored in her other classes, where she said she has already learned much of the material on her own.
The students even named their robots. Murray named her robot “Comet.” Sporting her favorite MIT sweatshirt Murray demonstrated Comet’s ability to drive in a straight line, recognize a color pattern on the floor, then use that as an instruction to turn left and proceed around the room turning whenever it ran into an obstacle.
“Programming has been the most fun,” she said. “It is so cool what you can do with these computers and plug a little cord into a robot. I have always wanted to build. I love watching science shows about rockets.”
Murray said she visited MIT and fell in love with it right away. She visited the science museum and it helped spark her interest in science.
Ruiz Foods Inc. recently provided a Ruiz 4 Kids Mini Grant award in the amount of $823 to help Kinghorn purchase additional components for the classroom.
“I would love to expand this into an after school program,” Kinghorn said. “I would love to give the opportunity to expand it to more students. I know I have more advanced students in my class who are not in the program who see it and want to work with the robots.”
Kinghorn said the students were given basic instructions on how to use the robots and what commands could be sent to the robot. From there, the kids used their imaginations to construct the robots in the manner in which they desired.
“These are the students who are not being challenged,” Kinghorn said. “I really think this program stretches their critical thinking skills. It gives them an opportunity to mess up to learn from that. It teaches it will not always work out, then you have to go back and figure out what went wrong.”
She said it was also exciting to see her students go online and use the internet to learn how to do things with the robots not taught in the curriculum.