July 27, 2013 in Washington Voices

It’s out of this world

STEM students learn about space, planets and robots
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Taylor Smith, left, watches as robot operator Joshua Hall, holding the remote, at right, maneuvers a tracked vehicle through the legs of a chair Wednesday, during a summer school session at Broadway Elementary. Fourth- and fifth-grade students got a chance to operate robots, which they dubbed “Mars rovers” in keeping with the space theme of the session.
(Full-size photo)

Elementary students taking summer school in the Central Valley School District have been learning about space and our solar system during the district’s annual STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy.

On Wednesday, fourth- and fifth-graders used robots to simulate the Mars Rover. They maneuvered the robots through a series of obstacles and answered questions about space.

The robots were built from kits by Steven Van Keulen, a 2012 graduate of University High School who is studying virtual technology and design at the University of Idaho. He rigged the robots’ controllers to move in opposite directions as the wheels just as a bit of an extra challenge.

“It was easy,” said David Whitmire, who will be a fifth-grader this fall.

The students could answer questions about the photosphere (it’s the surface of the sun), what it is about an airplane’s wings that allow it to fly (the shape), and what a comet is (ice and rock) – all subjects they have talked about this summer.

“I learned all the planets in order,” Whitmire said before he rattled them off, from the sun through Neptune.

The STEM Academy was at Broadway Elementary School this summer. About 100 students attended classes, which ended Wednesday.

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