By Robert Jernigan, TAG Member, Okaloosa STEMM Academy, Valparaiso, FL
I teach IT classes at a STEMM Center in Okaloosa County, Florida, and my degree is in programming. Previously, I was struggling to retain students in my coding classes. We're lucky to live in a county with a military installation, which game me an opportunity to asked a community engineer or military technician to aid me in developing curriculum for my program as my hardware skills were lacking.
Mr. Eric Werkowitz answered the call for community service. He's a retired engineer and veteran from the local military base.
Cost was a major consideration as my classes are generally in the 25-student range. We used the TETRIX® framework and the Arduino UNO with a motor controller shield as our brain brick funded by writing grants. The project cost for six kits was around $2,000 dollars, and most electronic parts were purchased online and easily researched.
Then, my training began. Mr. Werkowitz researched Arduino DIY robotic projects and we built multiple prototypes after school. He taught me the basics of electrical engineering (EE) by testing various robot configurations. His pathfinding allowed me to learn in four months what would have taken me, on my own limited time, about three years. Our first robots were RC controlled bots to teach the students the necessary EE skills so they could build a basic robot. Then we moved on to a moth/cockroach robot that sought out the light or the darkness to learn advanced electrical circuits.
Now I teach seventh- and eighth-grade students how to build a GPS robot that can determine its heading and then move to a longitude and latitude specified in the code.
Our programming is progressing nicely, giving the students base code that they'll have to modify to program a robot. The activity is to run a salesman algorithm to travel to four GPS transmitters by seeking the closest GPS transmitter, eliminating it, and then looking for the next closest.
Mr. Werkowitz and I are building a GPS drone this year, and we will teach the process to students next year.
A tertiary effect of this collaboration is that now I use our LEGO® kits and Arduinos in my sixth-grade classes. I can teach my students to transition from block coding to C++ by adding an adapter for Ethernet motor cables. Our final eighth-grade project is to drop an insect trap or insect area denial scent to aid farmers in turning some of their acreage into organic farms and increase their profitability. One day we hope to encourage usage of robots in farming that work at night.
I have no problem getting students to return to the second year of programming now. The best compliment I received is from Gus Fontenot, a student, who said “I am so thankful for this class as I would be bored at a regular school.”