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Robots inspire Diamond students

Children build, program machines

POSTED: November 1, 2013 9:18 a.m.

Fifth-graders Ariyanna Lofton, 10, and Hailey Mixan, 10, show off the robots they built with their classmates, Samantha Salas and Mary Rios.

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A special science project for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Fort Stewart’s Diamond Elementary School incited students’ creativity and appreciation for science, explained Nathaline Simons, who, with Kathy Sheets, helped organize the school’s Robot Fest, held Thursday morning in the gymnasium.
Simons, an exceptional-math teacher, said a special robotics project that began in mid-September allowed students to start with lessons they learned in the classroom, and then enhance those lessons with hands-on practice. They worked in pairs to build their own functioning robots. She said the project inspired some students who didn’t normally participate in classroom instruction to excel in using their imagination to build something.
“It was impressive to see the critical-thinking skills these kids had to use to construct these robots,” Simons said. “They had to follow program guides and computer flow charts ... There are a couple kids who actually stood out. Some of them are master builders ... Kids who normally wouldn’t shine in (class) are shining here today.”
Four students from Melissa Crank’s fifth-grade class were eager to show off their robots before the festivities began. Hailey Mixan, 10, and Mary Rios, 9, showed off their robot Leader’s skills. Ariyanna Lofton and Samantha Salas, both 10, were not about to have their robot, Kandy, outdone. The girls wanted to demonstrate their creation’s abilities.
“My brother has a lot of Legos,” Mary said. “We build a lot of things. We even built a Ferris wheel, and the wheel would turn.”
Ariyanna said she also got her start by building things with Legos when she was in third grade. She said the robotics project has inspired her to one day be a builder or civil engineer.
Cranks said she is proud of all her students as well as students from other classes and grade levels. She said she has a friend who knows someone with the 38th Explosive Ordnance Division at Fort Stewart. On the day of the robot fest, several soldiers wowed students with a display of three Army robots.
“(Our students) not only had to build their robots, they had to program them without any (adult) assistance,” Crank said. “If it didn’t work, they had to go back to the drawing board and start over.”
When the fest began, student teams demonstrating their robots were asked to move from site to site in a clockwise manner so that students seated around them could see their robots in action. These robots included not only Leader and Kandy, but one called Forklift that is capable of lifting a small stack of books, and another one called Spider that crept along slowly like a mechanical arachnid,
One robot called Dragster was just that — a dragster. Another robot, Mystery Machine, appeared to be a perpetual-motion machine, creating its own power to operate.
Following the students’ robotic demonstration, the Army showed off its robots. After a short presentation, one of the noncommissioned officers asked students to raise their hands if they’d like to drive one of the Army’s robots. Every child’s hand shot up.
Though only a few students were selected, excitement generated by the demonstration did not diminish. Simons said that excitement might lead some of the students to be engineers or to choose other science-related careers.

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