QHS robotics prepare students for STEM careers

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Quitman High School robotic students are working to keep up with today’s science, technology, engineering and math field by elevating curriculum and working toward future competitions.

Students are working with 3D printers to build their materials and construct robots.

David Cross, physics, engineering design and robotics teacher, said working with the robots and printers helps students become familiar with university-level work.

“We want to be able to see the applications. Calculus and trigonometry are actually applicable for jobs,” Cross said. “It’s a growing industry and we have to keep (training) in a public school.”

Students use a program – Onshape – to build nuts and bolts with the 3D printer using recycled plant materials.

“The days of high school kids doing Lego robots are over. They’re limited,” Cross said. “You can’t get a patent over a Lego project like you can with 3D printed materials.”

Students have to troubleshoot and figure out the problems when something goes wrong with their 3D printed parts.

“These students are digital natives. We cater to that because there’s more to computers than Facebook and Instagram,” he said. “Those kids can do this at home. These kids are genuinely interested in it.”

There are more programs and jobs than ever before for science and math students to pursue, Cross said.

In addition to building in the classroom, Cross is also growing the program for students to enter more interactive competitions.

Quitman has competed in the UIL Robotics competitions in the past. However, Cross went looking for a contest that requires more creativity and more innovation.

He found the FIRST competitions, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

FIRST is an international organization structured to encourage young people to pursue interests and careers in STEM areas, according to its website.

Kindergarteners through fourth graders use motorized Legos to deal with scientific challenges. Sixth through eighth graders create solutions for engineering challenges by building Lego-based robots of their own design.

From seventh to 12th grade, students participate in the FIRST Tech challenge, where they design, build and program a robot to play a game against other teams. High school freshmen to seniors can compete in the FIRST Robotics competition, where student teams compete head to head with their robots.

Cross said the FIRST Robotics requires more creativity than the FIRST tech challenge.

He added he has about 20 robotics competitors now at QHS, but the team would need 10 solid students for FIRST.

The design aspect gets emphasis along with function at FIRST. Design provides an outlet for girls and women who might not otherwise be involved in STEM fields, he said.

“STEM alienates young girls. Jobs are unfilled with women,” Cross said. “It’s just a male-dominated industry because we’ve (people) always focused on function.”

Like Android and Apple devices, creative differences provide users a varied experience, Cross said.

FIRST gives the students something to work toward.

“It’s where the competition and exposure is,” Cross said. “Anything worth doing is worth making a competition.”

Students are getting Microsoft certification, CAD and engineering experience and other valuable certifications.

“They have a lot more options that mean something in the real world,” he said. “They can leave here and make money tomorrow.”

High school students could soon add drones to their robotics programs.

Inspired by a program at Fruitvale ISD, Cross applied for the drone program the end of last week through the Texas Education Agency and Federal Aviation Administration.

Before High School

Judy Johnson, junior high science and robotics teacher, works with the eighth graders in their robotics elective.

Johnson’s students have been working on STEM challenges, where they design and build something with a purpose, such as building an earthquake-resistant structure or a wind turbine designed to minimize bird deaths.

“It is neat to see them problem solve. They really enjoy those real world connections. They realize they can’t just build,” she said.

Eighth graders work with Lego Mindstorms to practice early robotics. They received updated versions from the high school to program with computer coding, build and operate.

Johnson said the kids get an idea of engineering and robotics by working with the Mindstorm’s different sensors.

Her class will take a field trip to Waldo Way Farm between Quitman and Mineola to see their robotic milking machine.

Johnson just started in the eighth grade robotics role. These students don’t compete now, but she hopes to develop a team for next year and find competitions for them.

Elementary-level students will get the smaller, older 3D printers from the high school. Elementary students are participating in tech labs every Friday while teachers have an extra conference period.

(See more about the elementary labs in last week’s issue or at woodcountymonitor.com.)

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