NEW PARIS — National Trail eighth graders are getting a new class for the 2017-2018 school year. The school is introducing Automation and Robotics, in collaboration with Miami Valley Career Technical Center (MVCTC).
Last year, both seventh and eighth graders took the first class in Project Lead the Way programming: Design and Modeling.
The students took the class for a semester, but they met every other day, making it equivalent to nine weeks of the class.
However, this year, the seventh and eighth graders will be split up, with every seventh grader taking Design and Modeling and every eighth grader taking Automation and Robotics. These classes will have the same set up as Design and Modeling — the students will meet first semester, every other day.
Teaching the classes is Carmen Kennel, a satellite teacher at National Trail, who is employed through MVCTC.
“We were looking for a way to prepare kids to be engineers and all the job opportunities that are available throughout Preble County,” Kennel said.
According to Kennel, both courses are offered through Project Lead the Way curriculum, which, according to the Project Lead the Way website, is a nonprofit organization that “provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers across the United States.” Project Lead the Way is an initiative geared towards getting students interested in the STEM fields.
In the Design and Modeling class students are introduced to the design process.
“Once the students understand the design challenge, they are given challenges,” Kennel said. “They work with partners and have various tasks to complete. One of the things they do is watch a video about a student who has cerebral palsy and is in rehabilitation. The students have to design orthosis which meet specific needs for the student. That’s the first challenge that they have. Then they’ll do some math, where they don’t really see that they’re doing, because they’re building stuff. They’ll further their math skills. The last thing they do is design a therapeutic toy, once again for a student with cerebral palsy. That’s what the seventh graders will do.
“The eighth graders will be taking Automation and Robotics,” Kennel said. “It will start out learning about the history of robots and how they’ve been around for a long time — students probably just don’t realize all the things that robots do in society. Then they will build like 10 mechanisms that engineers use on a daily basis. We actually have Vex Robotics kits that the career center has purchased for us. So we have these kits and the students will be partnered up, two students per kit. They will have the hands-on opportunity to design those mechanisms and then they will use them to do other projects.
“One of the things is they will design a toy, there’s a rubric they will follow — it has to move and meet certain things,” Kennel explained. “Then they’ll have seven different options they can build. One of them is an elevator for someone in a wheelchair to ride up steps. The students will have to design it, build it, and test it in front of us. They will have to write the code on the computer to get the robot to physically move.”
“The final project that they’ll do, which I think is going to be a challenge, but I think we’ll be able to do it — is they will build an assembly line,” Kennel said. “There are different processes, so the students will be partnered with one person to build one specific thing, then they’ll put the six pieces together, and it has to make it all the way through the assembly line. That will be a challenge to get all 24 students in that class to get that one piece to go from the start to the end.”
These classes may seem familiar to some, because Eaton Middle School is offering the same class this upcoming year. They also started with Design and Modeling last year and are now expanding to include Automation and Robotics. According to Kennel, MVCTC saw the need in Preble County with all of the manufacturing jobs available here. Kennel added, those jobs need filled and one way to do that is to get local kids interested in the field at a young age.
Kennel added, last year the students were uncertain about the Design and Modeling class.
“Because it’s different,” she explained. “Students are used to memorizing this and then doing this. Taking this test that’s multiple choice or true or false. This is not like that. They actually have to complete a project and it has to be worked and they have to explain why they did that. There’s no right or wrong answer. All the students were given the same project, but we’d have 10 different solutions, or correct answers if you will, at the end.”
If the students take these two classes at National Trail Middle School and find they are interested in STEM, they have choices moving forward with their education. As freshmen and sophomores at National Trail, they can take the agriculture program, which Kennel said, is also a “hands-on” program. They could continue in that program in their junior and senior years, or they could choose to attend MVCTC, where they have Automation and Robotic courses.
National Trail Middle School Principal Mike Eyler added, if the students wanted to continue on a path towards engineering, National Trail does offer advanced math, all the way up to calculus, through Edison Community College, as a College Credit Plus course. The high school students could also choose to join the tech courses at National Trail, where they would learn how to diagnose tech issues and work on computer hardware.
“This is another avenue for students to do career exploration, in junior high,” Kennel added.
In fact, that is why Eyler sees this new course as a benefit for National Trail.
“For me, one of the things that we can start in the seventh and eighth grade and then continue on in the high school is career exploration,” Eyler said. “Showing the students options. At the high school, they have Manufacturing Day, they have career day, and job fairs and things like that. Those are great, but how can we expand that into younger people who are also beginning to think about that,” he said.
“The sooner the student knows what general area they would like to go into, the sooner we can help them work towards achieving that,” he added. “So, with all of the manufacturing jobs turning toward specialized computer programming, toward robotics and things like that, we can start helping our students train and get into those industries early. Help them know what they want to go on and do. This is where the future manufacturing jobs are. I think that’s great for seventh and eighth graders to realize.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH
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