Eighth graders in Michael Meneghetti’s Robotics class at Stanley Middle School faced a challenge. In groups of two, they had to design and program a miniature battery-powered race car to speed down a carpeted runway to the finish line.
In order to do that, the cars needed to be not only designed well, but also programmed so that the tires spin the exact number of rotations necessary to finish the route as quickly as possible.
Students Ryan Bea and Sabrina Alesma worked together, adding and changing the sizes of their gears and programming the car’s tire rotations on a laptop computer. This round of alterations marked the tenth time the team had to make changes to their car to complete the challenge.
But happily, they didn’t seem to mind having to go back to the drawing board again and again.
“It can be kind of frustrating,” said Ryan. “But it can also be kind of fun to figure out the bigger goal.”
LPIE funding provides high-quality materials to build Robotics projects.
This is the fourth year Stanley has had Robotics, a very popular class offered as a year-round elective to 7th and 8th graders and as part of the 6th and 7th grade Wheel options. LPIE gives $318,050 a year toward Stanley’s electives program, and Meneghetti says he could not offer such a high level of instruction to his students without this funding.
“Without the support I have received from LPIE, my class would not exist,” Meneghetti said.
The first year Robotics was offered, LPIE purchased 15 computers for programming, 30 robot sets, and other materials like dowels for axles, motors, gears, wheels to build the projects. LPIE provided another 30 robot sets in the program’s second year and continues to fund consumable items so that students can build high-quality objects.
Students in the Robotics classes are engaged by open-ended challenges such as designing a windmill that generates electricity, cars powered by gravity and a “robot dance” competition, where students program three robots to perform a choreographed dance to movie theme music.
As with the car race challenge, none of the projects are easy. Students have to engage in a lot of trial and error in order to find the best way to make their creations work.
“All of the projects I give are designed so that they’re not going to get it on the first try,” says Meneghetti. “The skills our students should be developing to compete in the 21st century job market will be problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.”
The class has been very popular with Stanley’s students – Meneghetti estimates that about 100 eighth graders expressed interest in the 56 spots offered in their section of the class this year.
Girls are making up a higher percentage of the students in Stanley's Robotics classes.
What’s more, the classes have seen an increase in the number of girls, thanks to Meneghetti encouraging more girls to take Robotics. When the class first started, he estimates that about four girls took the class. Now for the first time, all of his classes are made up of almost half girls.
Other local middle schools looking to develop their own Robotics programs have sent teachers to observe Meneghetti’s class to get ideas for their curriculum. Community and parent support have also played a big role in the success of the classes, with Lafayette-based carpet store Blodgett’s donating carpet for the car race track and school parents giving wires and other supplies needed for challenges.
“The response has been overwhelming,” says Meneghetti.