This isn’t your father’s science, tech class

Autumn Nelson and Maia Harvey, along with Brynn Bodermann (not pictured) showed the school board how they worked on their robotic vehicle.

Autumn Nelson and Maia Harvey, along with Brynn Bodermann (not pictured) showed the school board how they worked on their robotic vehicle.

By Marcie Klomp

It’s not even your science class. Students at Howard-Winneshiek Schools are doing amazing things, as the board found out at the March 10 meeting at the high school media center.

They also learned that playing with cars isn’t just for boys anymore. Eighth grade girls from Nick Ferrie’s Automation and Robotics (AR) class demonstrated how they built an erector-set-like car and programmed it to do some maneuvers all on its own.

Maia Harvey explained how they had to count off seconds on how fast the car was going forward and then backing into a garage. Board member James Kitchen was interested and asked how long it took. Autum Nelson replied, “Two class periods.”

Autumn told the group she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Supt. John Carver noted the correlation between doctors and robotic surgery. She replied, “My opinion is robots can malfunction, so when you are doing surgery, it could mess up.” She wanted a real surgeon to work on her!

The class is part of Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a program that introduces youth to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Ferrie continued, “Last year, I took all seventh graders around town to open their minds not only to what jobs are available in Cresco but also to show that manufacturing jobs aren’t like they used to be.”

The teacher gets them excited about the engineering field. “There’s more to this field than what people think.”

This year’s seventh graders took Design and Modeling (DM). It got the students to look at something and visually see how it gets put together. “Then I let them design something.” One of the designs was a tractor and cultivator, which he printed off on the district’s 3-D printer and passed around to the board.

Seventh and eighth graders are required to take those fun classes. Ninth graders can also have some fun with teacher Justin Denner, but they are not required. Denner works with PLTW at the high school.

His class is only open to freshmen, but the district plans to expand that to sophomores as well for the 2014-15 school year.

“Our first big project was to design a puzzle cube, like Rubik’s Cube. It was supposed to be easy enough for ages 2-4, but most couldn’t solve the cube themselves!”

For the past three weeks, the class was working on reverse engineering—taking an ordinary household object and seeing how it works. Now they are working on making their own object. The next project will be making a model train car. He plans to use the 3-D printer for that.

NICC-Cresco campus supports STEM and will provide classrooms for PLTW courses in fall 2015.

With all the students are learning, Carver noted the kids who graduate in 2020 will have a very marketable skill.

• Another student, Casey Ollendieck, was recognized for his achievement. He spoke about attending a Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Washington, D.C.

Casey plans to be a doctor and learned a lot of things at the conference. “I learned your mind is the biggest computer in the world.”

Getting back to an earlier conversation, he noted he watched a robotic surgery via video-streaming. “It’s quite incredible. But I’d rather have a surgeon myself. Just thought I’d throw that out there.” He concluded he had a very good experience and was glad he went.

The enthusiasm of teachers, students and adminstration is palpable as each speaks about learning all these new and advanced technologies. The kids want to reach that next level, and they need support from everyone as they attain their goal.

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