Franklin-Simpson Exploratorium Builds Student Skills in Science and Technology

May 10, 2017
Originally published on May 11, 2017 10:50 am

Schools in Kentucky, and across the nation, are making it a priority to develop a 21st Century workforce trained in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. That skilled workforce is necessary for careers in the competitive global market.

Simpson County schools are making a commitment to science and technology with a hands-on ‘maker space.’

The robots are humming along on tabletop landscapes. Everything is made out of Legos at a robotics camp at a former school bus garage turned into the Franklin-Simpson Exploratorium.

Nine-year-old Charlotte Hargrove says the goal is to make the robot bee grab the honey.

“We have to readjust it because it stops right in front, but if we can get it to go a little bit further, about an inch or two, we can hit the button and the bee stays on top so we can get the honey." “What are you going to do now that it stopped too soon?” “We go to our computer…”

Charlotte is on a team they’ve named Simply Southern Girls. But in the bigger picture of science education, there’s nothing simple, regional or gender specific about what the students in this robotics camp are learning. They’re part of a global trend in education that encourages collaboration and creative thinking.

Matt Staggs is the science resource teacher for Simpson County Schools and this Exploratorium is his classroom

“The Exploratorium is a 'maker space.'  A maker space is a classroom or building that is centered around making," said Staggs. "We’ve made catapults. We’ve made weather instruments. We’ve made hovercrafts.”

Staggs works with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Typically when kids want to make a science experiment, they go get just a few things at Walmart and then they make it based on that. They might not have access to power tools or Legos or, in this case, robots.”

Staggs says students in this robotics camp form teams and are given challenges.

“We started with a base robot, and then at the beginning of the camp, they took that base robot and then built attachments to fit the needs of each of the individual challenges.”

Twelve-year-old Jacob England is figuring out how to solve a challenge with his Lego robot that’s a shark.

“A regulation is the shark has to be inside of this square. It was outside, so I’ve gotta adjust it a little bit.” “How are you going to do that?” “Go back to the program and make it…well….I also could scoot it over a little bit and see if that works.”

Jacob says he’s already done a few weeks of programming in science class.

It’s really fun. I like challenges. So I like the more complicated stuff.”

Staggs says from a teacher’s standpoint, it’s easy to slip in the important skill of computer programming when students are having fun with robots.

“There is a programming aspect to it. What they’ll do is they create an attachment. They connect it to motors and sensors and then program those motors and sensors to move the physical Legos to manipulate the objects on the table.”

Staggs taught 6th grade science for three years in a regular classroom. He says a maker space encourages students to initiate and collaborate. 

“We started and some of the kids were like ‘OK, I’m going to be the programmer you can be the builder,’ or they would kind of say, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ And this level of collaboration isn’t really met in a normal classroom.”

When students in Simpson County Schools come to the Exploratorium they step out of the ‘normal’ classroom into the new landscape of science education.

In June, middle school students can explore new territory in the Aquabots Camp. They’ll be designing and building robots that go underwater.

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