At King’s Fork Middle School Tuesday, teacher Debra Shapiro helps Matt Chamberlain, Criofan Shaw and Jacari Tate get to grips with robotics. Students create robotic arms before engaging in challenges.
At King’s Fork Middle School Tuesday, teacher Debra Shapiro helps Matt Chamberlain, Criofan Shaw and Jacari Tate get to grips with robotics. Students create robotic arms before engaging in challenges.

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Getting a grip on engineering

Published 10:55pm Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Students from Suffolk’s public schools are creating robotic arms from plywood and syringes, and then teaching what they learn to others when they take creations home, a camp instructor says.

Thanks to a grant from the Suffolk Education Foundation, 40 students signed up for the week-long Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Camp at King’s Fork Middle School.

Seventeen students have been experiencing the hands-on camp this week — three were “missing in action” — and 20 are scheduled to attend next week, teacher Debra Shapiro said.

“We originally advertised it for 30 kids (total),” Shapiro said. “We had over 100 applications and decided to up our number to 20 per class.”

The grant pays for every child’s spot, whereas students paid $175 last time the camp was offered, Shapiro said.

“I filled it, but there was no waiting list,” she said of the last camp.

Students work in teams, following instructions to build and operate robotic arms made of plywood and water-filled networks of plastic syringes connected with rubber tubing.

Push the plungers on the control syringes, and the arms move and perform tasks, like picking up Ping Pong balls.

“They look at the different scientific properties of it, like Cartesian coordinate systems and mechanical engineering,” Shapiro said.

Judging from what a handful at the camp said Tuesday, students are learning concepts that many of them will become much more familiar with in the future.

“I want to learn more about the robotics and about technology,” said Bradley Harrison, a rising sixth-grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School.

He said he wants to do “something to do with robotics. I enjoy building the robots and seeing what they can do when they’re finished.”

Jelani Jenkins, also a rising sixth-grader at JFK, said building a robotic arm was challenging, “but I like it.”

Jacari Tate, meanwhile, a rising seventh-grader at King’s Fork Middle School, had a message for the boys.

“It’s a lot easier (for girls like herself), because we have more brain power than them,” she said, adding she thinks that’s been scientifically proven somewhere along the line.

“I want to be a robotics engineer,” she said.

Shapiro said, “They learn a little bit about robotics and pneumatics. And they get to keep their kits and take them home.

“It kind of takes the knowledge beyond the classroom, because they will have friends they will show.”

The camps involve engineering challenges using the arms, and parents attend the camp on the last day for a “project exhibition.”

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