BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – About 12 Fort Madison middle school students partnered with students from the high school to work up some robotic technology and programming…and then had some Cuban sandwiches.
The robotics session was part of a 10-week program being held at the Elliott Test Kitchen where students learn about the construction and programming associated with robot technology.
Two Fort Madison Community School District instructors, Michelle Bentler and Roxanne Puga, oversee the class but it’s the high school students, such as Chris Brown and Jace Fedler, who are helping the students work up the projects.
Kumar Wickramasingha hosted the 10-week event and then had students from other programs come in and cook for the students. He held an open house prior to the school year where students could sign up for the program.
One of the students, Jackson Guzman, said he enjoyed the class and liked working with the robots.
“I get to build and imagine,” Guzman said. “I got one for my birthday. It’s not as complicated as this one, but it’s still a lot of fun to work with.
Guzman said the programming takes place on a computer, tablet or phone.
The students were putting plastic parts including wheels, lifters and baskets in control boards with ports for each part and then used programming on their phones to get the moving vehicle to complete tasks such as picking up plastic balls.
“Almost any job in the future you’re going to have to have these skills, Puga said. “Everything will have a component of science, technology, engineering or math. Even with English, what we’re seeing is kids filming book trailers and things like that. Accessing things online for research.”
Bentler said the program also teaches soft skills the students will take with them to future schooling and careers.
“In my mind, it takes real world problems and the students have to find a way to solve them using leadership and communication.” she said. “My daughter just graduated from the University of Iowa in business and nothing she did was individual. Everything was team-based and she found that extremely difficult to do because she was used to working by herself and she had to learn those skills.”
Puga said the teamwork is an important concept that is a byproduct of the sessions.
” If you look at a Japanese classroom, it’s completely different than ours because we tend to prize individualism over teamwork and that has to change, too,” Puga said. “This includes perseverance and things like that. They need to learn that they don’t quit when they fail.”
Bentler agreed, saying as parents and teachers we don’t permit our students to fail and we should do that more often.
“Let them make the mistakes, that’s a big part of this,” Bentler said. “Let them fail, because in real life that’s how it’s going to be. As teachers and parents we don’t let our kids fail enough. That’s a big part of STEM.”
Fourth grader Chloe Crank was also part of a second group working on the projects. She said she, too, had worked on robot projects in the past with Cubelets.
“I get to make robots and make them move. We do the programming on our tablets and iPhones,” Crank said.
The class was using Lego Robotics on Monday. Bentler said the program was supported by a STEM grant that she wrote that resulted in about $5,000 in electrical supplies.”
“That grant provided all the equipment, wiring, and parts the students are working with. There wasn’t any cash involved in the grant,” she said.
Meanwhile…back in the kitchen. Allison Lamb and Zephan Abel were working with Wickramasingha on Cuban sandwiches with rubbed pork slices, pickles, barbecue sauce, and carmelized onions served on artesian rolls, and cake for dessert.