Exciting robotics experience for Strayer students

The highly sought Fab Lab equipment was enjoyed at Strayer as students utilized loop coding to create and draw geometric shapes along with other robotic tasks.
Posted on 03/02/2023
Strayer students work with the robotics equipment provided by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit's Fab Lab. By Gary Weckselblatt

Strayer Middle School students had the opportunity this week to experience equipment from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Fab Lab. The lab is a transit van that transports several carts full of equipment such as 3D printers, a laser engraver, CNC router, vinyl cutter, and a variety of robotics equipment. It also has laptop computers with specialized software programs to control and interact with the equipment.

Students in Strayer’s math extension classes, the priority group this week, are using robots to learn various computer science concepts for an in-depth learning experience.

According to Megan Megan Boletta, the Fab Lab’s Program Coordinator, students were introduced to Finch Robot on the first day. Finch uses Bluetooth technology to code via iPad and send instructions to the robot. Students learned about sequence and loop codes before creating mazes for Finch robot to navigate. Students used problem-solving, trial-and-error, and a lot of teamwork to complete the challenge.

On day two, students utilized loop coding to create and draw geometric shapes with the Finch. The Finch has an opening to add markers and follow the code to sketch the shapes. Students applied existing knowledge about geometric shapes and angles to draw various shapes. Once they completed the shapes, students determined angles in their initials or names and coded Finch.

On day three, students were introduced to a new robot, Sphero RVR+, to learn about different sensors and code the robot to calculate angles using the Pythagorean theorem.

Students in the exposure group on Monday or Friday, engaged in digital fabrication using the Silhouette Portrait machine. Students are using design software to create 2D designs that they can turn into a vinyl sticker decal.

“It’s a really good opportunity for the students to see the equipment in action,” Ms. Boletta said. “It’s really accessible to all age levels and ability levels, and allows students to be creative and challenge themselves.”

Ms. Boletta shared that 67 percent of all new STEM jobs involve computing and only 11 percent of STEM Bachelor's degrees are in Computer Science. “The students recognized there are job opportunities in Computer Science,“ said Instructional Coach Jacki Clymer. “The Fab Lab provided students the opportunity to explore their interest in this field.”

Durin the class, several students asked our instructor where they could purchase robots.

In addition to working on their computational skills, students worked in teams to accomplish their coding tasks requiring communication and problem-solving skills. “It was wonderful to see the students laughing and smiling as they worked together to write code to make their robots perform the various tasks,” she said. “One task involved having the robot draw geometric shapes. The geometry students completed this task faster than the others since they had just learned about the angles necessary to complete this task the day before in math class. A team of students extended the assignment by programming their robot to draw a three-dimensional cube. Others created art similar to what you would make using Spirograph.”

There’s great demand in schools for the Fab Lab, and its annual one-week residencies at schools fill up in approximately 36 hours once posted. The equipment gives students an opportunity to learn from cutting-edge technology designed to inspire and encourage them to pursue careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) fields.

Assistant Principal Zach Garger credited Ms. Clymer for working with extension teachers to give students a unique project-based experience. “Jacki did an amazing job of planning, communicating, and getting all extension classes, as well as various special education classes and IU classrooms involved this week,” he said. “She plays a huge role in our building in terms of instruction, teacher support, MTSS, and PBIS.”

The Fab Lab equipment is very expensive. Through PAsmart Grants, the BCIU received $150,000 to expand teacher professional development, and expand the reach of the Fab Lab to county public libraries and school districts. In addition to Strayer, the Fab Lab has been at Neidig, Pfaff and Quakertown elementary schools this school year.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

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