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Fifth Graders Visit ECE Robotics Class

Fifth Graders Visit ECE Robotics Class

Students from Maret School, visiting Prof. Blankenship's Capstone Design class, represent potential engineers of the future.
Students from Maret School, visiting Prof. Blankenship's Capstone Design class, represent potential engineers of the future.

The ECE Department recently welcomed a group of fifth grade students and their teachers from Maret School, a college preparatory day school located in Washington, D.C., to campus to learn more about robots.

The Maret guests visited Dr. Gilmer Blankenship’s ECE Capstone Design Course, ENEE 408I, Autonomous Robotics, on February 13, 2008. Three graduate students John Karvounis, Mike Stanley, and Jared Napora and Undergraduate Teaching Fellow, Robert Ricketts assisted with informing and demonstrating robots.

During the visit, the controls for the robots were literally placed in the fifth graders’ hands in the form of a Microsoft Xbox Controller. The children were allowed to drive the machines up and down the halls outside of the BAE Systems Lab in the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building. This was their favorite activity, making the day “awesome” and a “highlight” for some.

The week of February 10th to the 15th is known as Intensive Study Week for Maret students. During this time, teachers select an area of study that is not normally covered in their curriculum and take the week to expose this topic to a small group of students. Kiki Sweigart, a math and science teacher for Maret, chose the subject of study “Engineering Extravaganza” to teach students about what an engineer does, introduce them to problem solving, and expose them to robots.

“[I wanted] for the kids to experience the enjoyment of solving problems, see the teamwork involved in all sciences, and look at what is possible for them,” said Sweigart.

Dr. Blankenship, Professor and Associate Chair for External Affairs for the ECE Department, gave the eight students an opportunity to see what creations they could be capable of.

Typically, Dr. Blankenship has high school visitors to the lab. This was the first group of elementary school students to visit. Blankenship was delighted to see that the class had drawn interest from a few girls.

“This is the right age to create and maintain their interest,” he said. “I hope all of them will be interested in engineering as a career.”

According to Sweigart, Blankenship was successful in tweaking their interest.

“Many [of the students] realize that this is something they can look forward to doing in the future,” says Sweigart. “One girl said her little sister is a bit upset because her big sister wants to be an engineer now and not an artist like her baby sister!”

Maret students will have the opportunity to exercise their engineering capabilities at their Science Fair, on Saturday, March 1. Their projects range from “How much iron is in cereal?” to “Which liquid can hold its heat the longest?".

For more pictures of the Maret visit, please click on the following link:

February 27, 2008

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"This is the right age to create and maintain their interest."

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