ROCKING ROBOTICS: Program gaining steam at Pisgah High School

ROCKING ROBOTICS: Program gaining steam at Pisgah High School

February 10th, 2013 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Pisgah High School science and robotics teacher Gus Hembree observes as juniors Noah Venable, Austin Tidwell and Silena Moss watch their robot cruise the hallway using programming the group just installed.

Photo by Ben Benton/Times Free Press.

PISGAH, Ala. - There's a new robotics class at Pisgah High School in Jackson County, Ala., where education is sprouting wheels and whirring along the halls.

Junior LaShauna McBride didn't even know she was in the fledgling robotics class until she got her schedule; now she's considering a technical career.

"Once I got into it, I liked it, and I think it'll help me a lot in the future," said LaShauna, 16, who was working with her project teammates Friday to program one of the small robots the school got for the class.

"Yesterday we had to program it so that when it hits something, it automatically backs up," she said. "That's pretty hard."

Science and robotics teacher Gus Hembree says he doesn't help too much because his technically savvy students learn better if they track down most of the information they need on their own.

"The class is 100 percent student-centered," he said. "The kids are in charge of the class. They have deadlines on things they have to be able to do, but as far as how they get through that process [it's] up to them.

"It's all about problem solving and divergent thinking," he said.

Hembree said the robotics class got started after Principal Mark Guffey asked him if he'd like to teach a robotics/engineering course. That led the school to enter Northeast Alabama Community College's Best Robotics competition.

But the class wouldn't have been possible without a local nonprofit group, Sand Mountain Concerned Citizens, and its executive director, Wayne Cummins, Hembree said.

Cummins said he and Hembree started cooking up ideas with Guffey, and the Concerned Citizens group contacted California-based Parallax Corp. to see if the company could help.

Parallax sent Pisgah six robots and recently sent a couple dozen electronic trainer packages, he said.

Cummins wants to see the robotics program meshed with other subject areas that can be incorporated into programming, design and presentations. He also wants the program to reach down to seventh grade so students can build technical knowledge year after year.

"Some years from now we should have high school graduates who are familiar with robotics," he said, noting that the community has lost a lot of industry and jobs.

"The end game is to bring manufacturing back" to Sand Mountain by providing a workforce with the basic technical background most industry jobs demand, he said.

Last week at Pisgah, juniors Bryan Amezquita and Keaton Smith said they're aiming for technical or engineering fields and hope to make the most out of the robotics program.

"I like getting to work hands-on with the robots, programming and stuff," Bryan said. "It's a little harder than I expected, but I like the challenge. It's fun."

Both boys said the class makes them use skills from other subject areas like math and English.

Keaton said he once thought he wanted to go into the medical field, but he discovered programming the robots was fun.

"I want to learn how to program," he said. "I really like doing that."