Yesterday, the students raced robots. Today, they will begin to build sustainable houses.
Students at Hamilton County's STEM School are discovering that project-based learning not only teaches them something, it can be fun, too.
The latest project for the student body was to build robots and race them. Teams of teachers and students competed Thursday afternoon in a spirited race.
The students stood around a wooden maze and cheered as Principal Tony Donen officiated the races of their personally programmed and constructed Boe-Bots.
Teachers Nicelle Price-Gray and Valery Taylor watched as their Boe-Bot completed the wooden maze in one minute and 20 seconds.
"Project-based learning allows teachers to learn right next to their students," Price-Gray said, after her team's Bot finished with a time that she thought could win the competition.
A few minutes later, freshmen Dashawna Porter and Janice Lindsay placed their Bot at the starting line after making a few changes from their unsuccessful round one attempt. Students and teachers cheered for the girls' Bot as it completed the maze in 44 seconds, the fastest time of the day.
The girls not only beat their teachers, but they also get to be the first names engraved on the plaque that will hang inside the entrance of their school as the Boe-Bot Race Champions.
Porter said that they won the competition "because of a few last-minute changes to their Bot." After the first round when their Bot did not complete the course, the girls lessened the degree that their Bot turned in response to the whisker sensors that protruded from the front of it.
"We also adjusted the pause time of our Bot when it backed up to make it respond faster," Porter said.
These changes allowed their Bot to maneuver the walls of the maze faster than everyone else.
It has been five weeks since the students and teachers were divided into teams and given Boe-Bot kits. Each kit consisted of the pieces needed to build and program their Bot to drive, using whisker sensors to redirect its route throughout the maze. Each team wrote the program for their Bot on an iPad that would control its movements and response to obstacles.
"There were standard directions for the teams to follow in the construction of their Bot, but many opportunities for each team to customize their Bots to meet their own specific goals and strategies, by adding things like extra batteries or the position of their sensors," Price-Gray said.
"A level playing field is created when students collaborate and get to use their hands on projects. We see students succeed in our problem-based learning projects who are not always our top students in the classroom, and like today they even beat us," Price-Gray said laughing.
Donen said the projects are based on STEM subjects and are integrated with what they are learning in their other classes.
Richard Manning is a retired engineer who helps promote robotic projects in different schools in the area, including STEM.
"The kids began their project lost as to where to begin, as they were just handed a kit and told to go," he said. "But as the project progressed, I watched them improve their problem-solving abilities."
Boe-Bots are named for the Board of Education robot and were supplied for STEM through TVA's employee donation funding.
TVA's employees donate more than $300,000 a year to a variety of educational programs, said Charles Spencer, a senior adviser for generative construction at TVA.
Spencer said projects like this "are what education needs. The kids do not struggle to learn when they are building their Boe-Bots because they are enjoying the process."
Donen announced, as the competition ended, that tomorrow the students would be taking their Boe-Bots apart and putting them back in the boxes they came in for next year's class to use.
Lindsay said, "I am sad to be done with our Boe-Bot project, but excited to win our next competition as we are going to start building sustainable houses."