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Spring Valley students learn robotics

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SPRING VALLEY--A group of Spring Valley students spent two weeks this summer learning to design, construct, program and test autonomous robots in a Deep Space Terraformers summer class.

The class had an astronomy theme and students learned about the process of terraforming. Terraforming is the idea humans could possibly alter other worlds to make them habitable for people.

Of course, that kind of undertaking would require the use of robots, so the soon-to-be seventh graders used Lego Mindstorm NXT kits, teamwork, creative problem solving and a growing knowledge of engineering processes to create robots that could meet specific challenges. Teams of students wrote and tested computer programs to make their unique robots plant a flag, secure water and energy, place habitat structures, mine minerals and perform scientific research on an alien world.

Each day brought new challenges as students learned to design and construct robots, and then program their robots to sense obstacles and respond to sound, colors and contact with the environment.

"Engaging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) experiences for students are critical to preparing a 21st Century workforce," said teacher Michele Huppert. "Robotics is a great way to teach students about engineering--how to define problems, break down complex tasks in a team and create effective solutions."

Huppert taught the Terraformers summer class after piloting the curriculum with her high school astronomy class this past spring. The Lego Mindstorm NXT kits and curriculum materials were funded by a $4,450 grant from Fairmount Minerals - Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company. She plans to use the valuable robotics kits in other science classes as well.

"Robots are used in industry, medicine and research to perform repetitive, delicate or dangerous tasks," said Huppert. "Students will be learning robotics in my Disasters, Oceanography, Geology and Astronomy classes because they are a relevant, hands-on way to learn about engineering. Plus, it's a fun challenge for kids. These great learning opportunities would not have been possible without the generous grant from Fairmount Minerals."

The following students were the winners of various Terraformer challenges:

--Neos Challenge - Mason Johnson and Jaydon Nyeggen;

--Xenon Challenge - Cody Risler, Sam Brown and Dakota Elsenpeter;

--Hydra Challenge - Nate Hannack and Jarod Rielly;

--Vulcan Challenge - Craigen Anderson and Calvin Kotval;

--Pantheon Challenge - Julian Davis;

--Most Creative Programming Solution - Nate Hannack;

--Best Science and Engineering Journal - Julian Davis.