Tue07292014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Project Lego Mindstorm provides vision for future engineers at KGMS

The future of engineering is filled with possibilities! Thinking outside the box and taking the Lego building blocks a step farther, from a routine activity of play into the world of robotics, are the King George Middle School students of science teacher Patrick Simmons’ 7th grade science class.
The Lego Mindstorm robotics project was conceived by the Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP) to help kids make informed decisions about careers in engineering. Under the direction of the College of William and Mary, VDP is a program developed by the Navy to increase students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) opportunities at school.

Thrilled with the opportunity to apply their engineering skills to the program are 7th graders Noah Fields and Dillon Flowers. “Basically we have a robot that we build from instructions, and we have to program it to do certain tasks,” Flowers said. “Some of the robots we have built perform tasks such as transporting food.”

Fellow classmate and Mindstorm group partner, Noah Fields, embraces the aspect of teamwork, while focusing on his part of the project’s tasks. “I am getting all the stuff and information from the board, and putting it into the computer,” Fields said. “Dillon is doing all the building, and figuring out all the ideas on how to do it. For example, I have to record and count the rotations placed on the tires.”
“It is the mission of the program to encourage students to take higher level math and science classes and to pursue math, science, and engineering careers in college,” Simmons said.

During a two-week period, NSWC engineers and mathematicians partner with KGMS 7th grade classrooms, lending their knowledge and expertise to students as they work to solve programming and engineering Mindstorm issues. Thrilled with the opportunity to work with Simmons’ class, NSWC engineer Robert Snodgrass believes the class will provide an insight into the world of science and technology.

“Basically, the program teaches what they are doing here, and what we are doing on the Navy base,” Snodgrass said. “We come in and partner with one teacher, while working together with the kids. Another interesting aspect of this is that they are learning teamwork.

Sometimes you see different dynamics of how some teams work better together, and some don’t—and when they have to learn how to work together.”

Joining Snodgrass at KGMS are NSWC engineers Chelsey Lever and Bob Taft. While Lever has partnered with KGMS robotics coordinator and science teacher, Jessica Drinks, Taft has chosen to enhance KGMS teacher Kerrie Pastell’s class with his mathematician skills.

In order to prepare his students for this program, Simmons invited the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team (bomb squad) stations at NSWC Dahlgren.  EOD technicians visited with students and brought with them two of their bomb disposal robots, including one designed to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one built for domestic use. After talking to students about their careers in the Navy, the students were allowed to operate the EOD robots to complete various tasks around the classroom and the hall.

During this activity, students build a Lego Mindstorm robot to complete a series of tasks, based on a coral reef scenario. In this scenario, “an oil tanker has run aground on a coral reef in the South Pacific Ocean.  The tanker is leaking crude oil into the tropical waters, and winds threaten to carry the oil across the water and to the nearby islands.  The native people are dependent upon fishing as their means of making a living.  The situation becomes dire, as people and their livelihood are threatened, and animals are endangered.”

The students need to program their robots, use various sensors on the robot to help rescue the injured wildlife, clean up the oil spill, remove the tanker from the reef, provide food and a life raft to the stranded sailors, and to establish positive relationships with the local island population.

This is not the only dynamic lesson offered to students in Simmons’ science class.  Simmons directs the SeaPerch Program, another STEM activity where students build and design underwater remote-operated vehicles.  This program will run during the first two weeks of May. In addition, students in Simmons’ class built STEM R2K bottle rockets this past September, to learn how to compare variables in a science experiment.  Students were also certified in CPR and AED as part of their Human Body Systems this past December.

Leonard Banks

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