Six years ago, teacher Bill Gibson of
Morgantown High School received a request by students for a class that would
allow them to gain knowledge and experience related to engineering prior to
entering courses as students at the university level. This request led to the
creation of the MHS engineering program.
This past fall, Gibson’s class collaborated with the West Virginia University Nursery School for their project. Through a Skype meeting, Gibson’s students solicited feedback from the three, four, and five year olds at the WVU Nursery School regarding the type of robots the children would like to see built.
“Our preschoolers were so creative and excited to participate,” said Dr. Bobbie Warash, director of the WVU Nursery School. “Some of the ideas they shared included a pig that walks in mud, a firefly that lights up and moves and makes a buzzing sound, a bike that drives in a circle, and an elephant that eats peanuts by itself. The students really enjoyed the opportunity to engage in this process.”
In December, the MHS students and preschoolers meet again via Skype to talk about the designs and how the robots would be programmed to meet the children’s description. Last week, the MHS students visited the WVU Nursery School to share their new preschooler-inspired robotic creations.
”Being able to interact directly with the nursery school students, via Skype and in person, really fueled the energy and creativity of the high school students,” said Gibson. “Working to fulfill the wishes of small children took their project out of the realm of pretend engineering into the real world. I was very impressed by how much thought and work they willingly put into their creations.”
Following the MHS student’s robotic presentation the preschoolers had an opportunity to share their own Lego robotic creations, a bumble bee that circled and buzzed and an earthquake simulator.
“This collaboration was a huge success. The preschoolers had the opportunity to serve as ‘clients’ for the high school students,” said Warash. “And they were all so impressed that the high school students came through on creating almost all their requests. We are really looking forward to the next opportunity to partner.”
The MHS engineering course provides an overview of the many engineering fields through project-based learning. Students develop skills in writing, presenting and problem solving while working on a variety of projects.
These projects involve robotics and electronics, high altitude balloon satellite with radio tracking, rocketry and airplane design, woodworking, and, beginning last year, a joint project with art students to design and build a kinetic sculpture. Students also spend a few weeks learning and programming with MATLAB to prepare them for its later use in college. While some projects are required for the course, many are chosen (and often funded) by the students.
“It’s a great program and we were happy to participate. Our children are already looking forward to the exciting and fun things they will have the ability to do and learn in high school, as a result of this experience. That’s how you inspire life-long learning,” stated Dr. Warash.