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STEM Partnership Makes Learning Fun
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy - June 18, 2015

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FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Pioneer middle school students in Kurt Bethman's Gateway to Technology class in DuPont, Wash., got a rare treat May 29, 2015 ... when Soldiers from 570th Sapper Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, paid them a visit and brought a little something special with them ... robots.

Gateway to Technology is a middle school program developed by Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit organization that partners schools to implement a curriculum that emphasizes hands-on experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in an effort to prepare students for academic and professional success in these disciplines.

Soldiers with the 570th Sapper Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade and the students of Kurt Bethman’s Gateway to Technology class at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, Wash., end their day together May 29, 2015, with a group photo. The two partnered together to create a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, outreach program for the middle school students and aims to help supplement the school by showing students the application of the subjects they learn.(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy)
Soldiers with the 570th Sapper Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade and the students of Kurt Bethman's Gateway to Technology class at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, Wash., end their day together May 29, 2015, with a group photo. The two partnered together to create a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, outreach program for the middle school students and aims to help supplement the school by showing students the application of the subjects they learn.(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy)

“What's nice about this class as opposed to the traditional classroom it that the kids are up, they're moving, they are problem solving and working in teams, and they get to build things and have instant feedback,” said Bethman.

There are two courses under the STEM umbrella offered at the Pioneer middle school, design and modeling and a robotics class.

“In the robotics class the students learn about the mechanisms, torque and speed and they start programming and using motors.” said Bethman. “It's fun and they really enjoy it.”

Robots are a way to get kids interested in engineering and the Soldiers from 555th Engineer Brigade seemed more than happy to show this class just a small portion of how robots assist them in their day-to-day missions.

The platoon brought out three of their robots, the PackBot, the FirstLook and the Talon, to show the students and give the each a couple minutes on each one to complete a simulated training exercise.

Military robots come in different shapes and sizes as per the task they are designated for. The iRobot 510 PackBot can perform bomb disposal, surveillance and reconnaissance, CBRN detection and hazardous materials handling operations; the iRobot 110 FirstLook, or the “throwbot” as the Soldiers called it because it could be thrown into a room, is a lightweight robot that provides immediate situational awareness and investigates dangerous and hazardous materials; and “the big guy,” the Foster-Miller TALON, a tracked military robot designed for missions ranging from reconnaissance to combat.

One of the tasks was for the students to use the PackBot to locate a simulated improvised explosive device, then return the robot back to their location to load the grip arm with a fake charge then return to the IED and blow up in place, a safe distance from their location.

The students controlled the robot from a laptop with a controller that looks similar to ones used on PlayStations.

“You would be amazed how intuitive they pick up on this stuff,” said 1st Lt. Anthony Frisone, platoon leader, 555th Engineer Brigade. “We came out on Tuesday and gave them a crash course on how to operate the robots and they were pretty much pushing us out of the way to get stick time.”

According to the PLTW website, in the Automation & Robotics course, students use the VEX Robotics platform to design, build, and program real-world objects such as traffic lights, toll booths, and robotic arms similar to those on the Army robots they got to try out.

“They are a very smart group of kids, they have some background in robotics already, so as soon as they get can get some hand-on some equipment like this they are all about it,” said Frisone.

PLTW Gateway provides engineering curriculum for middle school students that challenges, inspires and offers schools variety and flexibility. Students get rigorous and relevant experiences through activity, project and problem-based learning and for some, a chance to meet, greet and learn from Army Solders specialized in the field.

“This is the first year we have been lucky enough to have this partnership,” said Bethman. “Hopefully it will continue for many more years.”

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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