Fayette Academy Robotics Program: Stepping into STEM
Ms. Terri Reeves is a teacher at Fayette Academy who is doing really groundbreaking things. Cypress learned that one of her classes is participating in the VEX Robotics Competition in December, and we were very eager to learn more about the type of work that her students are doing. She was kind enough to allow me to sit in on two of her classes one Friday morning and show me all about the work that they are doing and how they are preparing for the competition.
Her students are doing something really special. In her first class that I observed, the students spent time to learn and work on 3D printing. Never having seen a 3D printer before, it was very neat to see what goes into it and the end result. On this day, the students were working on printing farm animals. 3D printing is not nearly as simple as one may think, especially when it comes to small, intricate details, such as the beak of a chicken. “The beak is really hard to get right,” Reeves explained. In addition to this, Reeves also provides her students with a Raspberry Pi, a tiny (about credit-card sized) and affordable computer that helps the students learn programming through a variety of resources and projects. While high school classes are often very structured and with little one-on-one interaction, Reeves’ classroom is very different. This particular class only had two students, allowing Reeves to give them her undivided attention and truly foster their learning. Considering how bright and technologically-minded these students are, she allows them to really utilize their minds and work through challenging projects on their own instead of assigning strict parameters. The things that Reeves is teaching her students in this class is invaluable and will certainly benefit them throughout the rest of her students’ lives. “This is where the world is headed,” Reeves said—and she is right. As technology advances, having the skills Reeves is teaching will almost certainly set them apart as they enter the growing, computer-based workforce.
The bell rang, and the students from her next class walked in and got straight to work. In this class, the students actually work on building robots that can compete in the upcoming VEX Competition. Drew Helmsmann, Zack Doohen, and Niall Updegraff will be competing in December. Each of these students came across as incredibly bright. It was interesting to watch them interact as they worked on the robots—if they came across a problem, they would work together to find a solution, something that Reeves finds very important. For instance, they attempted to use a chain as a lifting mechanism instead of the gear that they were using before. At of the time of my observation, the robot’s motor wasn’t quite strong enough to lift the three pound cone that is required of the upcoming competition. However, watching these bright, young minds work together in order to work around each problem they encounter, I have no doubt that they will figure it out! The students really seemed to find enjoyment in this environment, and it’s clear that technology is their passion. One of the students, Zach, even built his own PC at home.
One thing that Reeves hopes to see in future years is more girls in these types of classes. “It’s hard when you are such a small school,” Reeves explained. Not as many classes are offered, so it can be more difficult for the students to fit it into their schedules. While there are currently no female students in her robotics class, she has had a few in past years. She explained how she noticed that when the male and female students worked together, the female students often allowed the boys to take charge of the conversation. Hopefully, as the years progress, more girls will be able to take Ms. Reeve’s class and find the confidence to let their voices be heard.
The VEX Robotics Competition is a very exciting opportunity for these bright students. Simply having a classroom environment that allows their minds to work together and learn new things is something that all schools should consider providing to their students. “The principal has been very supportive,” Reeves explained. The future of the workforce is in the scientific and technological field, and thanks to Reeves, the students of Fayette Academy are able to really dive in and see what the future is all about.