At the Eugene A. Tighe School in Margate, the robots had taken over — at least part of the library, anyway.
Several seventh-graders demonstrated Wednesday what they’ve learned using a hands-on engineering program that allows them to build and program miniature robots.
“They started working on this in sixth grade,” technology teacher Margo Juliano said. “In the beginning, they learn how to build the robot and the basics of programming, and the next year they learn a little bit more programming. They work really hard on it. It takes a lot of time and dedication. And most of all, they enjoy it.”
The robots, built using LEGOs and assorted electronics, must be programmed using a number of specific steps, with each step building off the previous one.
Using the programming software, students can make the robots play sounds, drive forward or backward, accelerate, make curved and pointed turns, and drive in a square.
The most difficult maneuver is the “parking bay,” which requires 23 separate steps. Make a mistake, said 13-year-old Andrew Gallagher, “and you have to delete the file, go back and do it all again.”
“We’ve had robots not work because the people who built it didn’t follow the directions correctly,” added Megan Reeves, 12.
That’s why each team of students is made up of builders, programmers and inspectors, the latter making sure everything is done correctly.
Megan and Andrew demonstrated some of the moves programmed into the robot, after entering the specific program code into the machine’s interface.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Hankinson, 12, Joseph Pagano, 13, and Lanie Chipkin, 13, were working on another program — one that can scan the color of a ball, determine if it’s red, and if so swing an attached arm to hit it.
“The arm mechanism moves up, drops down and hits the ball,” Joseph said.
“The thing is, with LEGOs, they don’t always go the way you want them to,” Nicholas added. “We need to get the arm in the right spot.”
They looked over the diagrams to see where the arm fits, discovering that it was initially attached in the wrong place by the wrong part.
“There’s a blue and a red ball, and the light reads the ball like a value chart,” Juliano said. “So when it gets to the ball, it knows what to hit.”
Joseph said the LEGO robotics courses “teach you the mechanics of it, and about trial and error. Every once in a while, you have a piece and you’re not quite sure where it goes.”
Juliano said the program is part of the larger Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, curriculum, adding that “many of the students, when they pick their majors, say they want to get into engineering.
As for the program itself, “when they finish their tasks, their eyes light up,” Juliano said. “They’re so excited they completed the task from beginning to end.”
Of course, the program also introduces students to an important facet of the modern world.
“It helps you know what robots are going to be like,” Nicholas said.
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