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Fri, Feb. 21

Abia Judd robotics lab making engineers
Quad-City Schools: Up to 10 different student-led projects going on any given day

Beginning robotics first-grader Seamus Smith and second-grader Gwen Herbert program the robot they built to discover undersea animals. The robot moves, uses a motion sensor, flashes lights, makes sounds, shows displays, and plays the recordings they’ve created.
PUSD/Courtesy

Beginning robotics first-grader Seamus Smith and second-grader Gwen Herbert program the robot they built to discover undersea animals. The robot moves, uses a motion sensor, flashes lights, makes sounds, shows displays, and plays the recordings they’ve created.

Cleaning up oil spills, designing buildings to withstand tremors, robots to pull the heaviest loads and even creating an automated elephant. Abia Judd “After School Robotics Lab” students in grades 1-4 became scientists and engineers using 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem solving, creative/innovative solutions, and collaboration along with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to solve real world challenges. This lab exists thanks to the generous support of SRP/Salt River Project, AzCASE/COX, and PUSD Education Foundation!

Abia Judd Librarian, Maureen Festi, spent months planning the lab and seeking funding to make it a reality. A $5,000 grant from SRP/Salt River Project provided the initial phase of the lab which consisted of purchasing six WeDo 2.0 robotics kits and iPads for programming/documenting. Last summer, Festi ran “test labs” with elementary students to assure challenges would be engaging and age-level appropriate. Robotics is held four afternoons weekly and during the first quarter, 113 students registered for 56 available slots. An AzCASE/COX $1,450 grant provided EV3 LEGO Core/Expansion robotics kits for advanced students. PUSD Education Foundation’s $4,820 supported the Lab’s second phase with additional kits and iPads to serve more students.

Students work with partners to solve engaging challenges. Second-grader Leah Jolley comments, “I love LEGO Robotics because I like building things and watching robots move to solve problems.” Partner Taylor Lowry adds, “I like when we mess up and we learn from it, and then we try again!” “At first, Ms. Festi gave us challenges. Now we make up our own challenges,” explains fourth-grader Levi Horn. On any given day, up to 10 different projects can be observed around the room.

Fourth-graders Preston Pifer and Andrew Scimeca created an 11-inch automated elephant, which performed to the “oohs” and “aahs” of younger children. Pifer says, “Working in groups helps you do better when you’re talking and sharing your ideas.” Students video and document findings with iPads.

Second-grader Carson O’Neill says, “I’m making a robot that can get past rocks, and bring things back to me. I’ll make a movie after I add the wheels.”

The Lab now hosts 80 beginner and advanced students per week, a total of 233 participants this year. Although lab sessions were extended 30 minutes to provide more time for creative designs and innovative solutions, Festi laughs, “When 4:30 arrives, it’s hard to get students to leave!”

Principal Clark Tenney observes, “Facilitating an elementary school robotics lab is a high-energy undertaking. Ms. Festi’s enthusiasm for our AJ Robotics program adds a wonderful dimension to our students’ learning!” Festi also credits Tenney for his continuous positive support of this dynamic program and expresses the excitement of seeing students develop innovative solutions. “They are learning that scientists and engineers don’t always get it right the first time. They keep trying over and over to solve the little problems that lead to solving the greater problem at hand.”

Caydin Pemberton, fourth grade, summarized the Robotics Lab experience. “It’s fantastico!”

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