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During Ashurst Elementary School’s STEM Club demonstration April 24, 2013, from left, kindergartener Avery watches as third-grader Aden and second-grader Oliver check their robot’s programming. Kindergartener Kaleb looks on as well. The event was part of the school’s first Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Week.

Photo by Mike DiCicco

Elementary school STEM Club shines during first STEM Week

24 Apr 2013 | Mike DiCicco Marine Corps Base Quantico

The explosive ordnance disposal robots had come and gone, but robots still ruled the library at Ashurst Elementary School last Wednesday morning. The android alligators chomping, mechanized monkeys drumming and other automatons on display were built by the students themselves.

Last week was Ashurst’s first STEM Week — that’s science, technology, engineering and math — and it was the spring semester’s STEM Club that built the robots that captivated their young audiences on April 24. This was also the first school year of the club’s existence, and it has proven to be a hit.

“Because of how many kids wanted to join initially, we had to split the group,” said Joel Jackson, physical education teacher and a sponsor of the afterschool club.

Even so, with virtually all 90 or so second- and third-grade students eager to join and only a dozen robotic LEGO sets to work with, names had to be drawn from a hat, said Principal Kathryn Downs. The school has applied for more sets to be used in classrooms, and all the teachers have already been trained to use the robotic building blocks, she said. “This has been such a hit with the club we actually had a staff development day.”

Jackson said both the club and STEM Week sprang from the Department of Defense Education Activity’s mission to integrate the subjects more heavily into the curriculum. With research, teachers at the school found that other schools were using the programmable LEGO sets with success, he said.

The STEM Club’s demonstration was just one of several events that took place at the school last week, including a demonstration of Quantico’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal robots, an exhibition by the Quantico Middle/High School Robotics Club, and talks by a meteorologist, a pilot, a television and radio engineer, and a satellite engineer.

Jackson said a show by Mad Science of D.C., which was titled “Things that Go Boom” and included a hydrogen-filled balloon exploding in a fireball, held even the teachers’ attention.

As one grade level after another streamed through the library April 24, 2013, the STEM Club members demonstrated not only the final product of their work but also the steps they took to program their robots’ actions, using software that comes with the building set.

This was not the club’s first project. Building towers of marshmallows and spaghetti had taught the students about “bases of support and triangulation and things like that,” Jackson said. And they built spinning tops with the LEGO set to see how different variables affected spinning time.

Third-grader Alyssa said her favorite project was building a soccer goalie because she got to try to defend against a kicker her friend built. “And I like soccer,” she added. “That’s my favorite sport.”

“My favorite was the airplane because when you press play, the propeller spins, and you can have a background like the sky, and it looks like it’s flying,” said third-grader Grant.

Alyssa said she would recommend the club to her friends “because they’ll have a very fun time programming the robots to make them work. And I already know a lot of them like mechanics.”

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