Paw Paw High STEM Club learns NASA robotics, attends competition
Paw Paw High School students in their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Club (STEM) designed and constructed a NASA robot capable of performing specific tasks this fall.
Their club, called the STEM Pirates, participated in the 2012 West Virginia First Lego League robotics competition at Fairmont State University on December 8 with their robot “Scallywag.”
The competition involved three parts—robotics games, their First Lego League core values project and senior solutions, said STEM Club coach and high school technology education teacher Chris Poniris.
The competition was fierce from 56 state teams, but the students did very well, had a great time and were recognized for their teamwork, he said.
In the teamwork competition, students had to work together to make a Lego object that represented a holiday of their choice. The STEM Pirates picked Christmas and made a candy cane.
For the games component, students had to design and construct a robot and program it to do 20 different missions by itself on their robotics platform. Their robot was programmed for 11 missions and successfully accomplished five tasks, he said. It took them around a month to build the robot.
The tasks their robot completed were knocking down bowling pins, rearranging medicine containers and putting them back in order, turning off a Christmas light, lifting weights with a push lever and finishing by moving to the bridge landing in the middle of the platform.
For the presentation competition, students had to identify an issue facing senior citizens every day and come up with a solution. Paw Paw Senior Center members told STEM club members that stink bugs in the house were a big problem. The students designed and built them a stink bug trap, Poniris said.
Students also did a presentation on the First Lego League’s core values, which include cooperation, sportsmanship, teamwork and professionalism.
Of the competition, Tristan Kesner said he really liked getting together and working with all of the teams. Michal Abdalov enjoyed the robot games and watching all the robots compete.
Zach Harrold’s favorite part was the teamwork competition. He also liked seeing and talking with other teams from around the state.
“It was difficult for us to know what to expect, but we learned a lot and had a great experience,” Harrold said.
“Everyone displayed sportsmanship, which made it a great atmosphere,” Hannah Leach said.
Poniris received a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) along with a state technology grant for the robotics program. The NASA Robotics Alliance Project and the STEM Club both strive to foster student interest in the fields of science and engineering.
Poniris worked with NASA Education Resource Center director Todd Ensign, who helped the club get started and supplied them with kits, robots and software to do the activities. The NASA robotics program uses cutting edge technology, he said.
Poniris became certified in robotics instruction for free through NASA. Club participation in the robotics competition was required as part of his certification. He also took three Paw Paw students to a five-day STEM camp at the NASA center in Fairmont this summer.
At the camp, students learned robotics and how to program the robots, Poniris said. They also designed and built rockets from scratch using computer software, did heat testing, took surface temperatures and compared them to NASA data, did geo-caching and learned to fly a small bi-plane by remote control and through aviation simulations.
Around 19 Paw Paw High students in grades 7-11 meet during school in a STEM Club period with Poniris as well as after-school and on weekends.
STEM members were gearing up for the state Technology Student Association competition in April. They will also participate in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) in March. NASA gave them software to program rockets to travel 800 feet containing two raw eggs and land within 24 seconds, Poniris said.
Teens love the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Club activities and don’t want to leave his classroom, he said.
Poniris hopes to expand the robotics program next year. The club is producing a promotional video with the school’s English department to let potential sponsors know about the program.
He’s hoping the robotics program will open doors for students since the industry has amazing job potential and good salaries.
Kids are preparing for jobs that aren’t there yet or that will be on the rise in the future, Poniris said. They’re learning how to solve real-world problems with critical thinking skills, are using real-world math and science concepts and are having fun while doing it.
“Who knows where it might lead them,” Poniris said of their STEM Club robotics experience.