Central engineering students take on robotics challenge

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STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math: Part one of a four-part series

By Becca Owsley

It might not be R2D2 or advanced cybernetics, but students in Central Hardin High School’s principles of engineering class are learning though creating their own robots.


The class is a part of local funding provided by Project Lead the Way, a national provider of science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum in middle and high schools.

Students in the class and the Technology Student Association are preparing their robots for a state advanced robotics competition in April. They’ve been working on their robots during class, before school and after school.

This year’s competition task is to build a robot that can drop bean bags into a tray.

“It’s more difficult than it looks,” teacher Jason Neagle said.

To create the robot, you have to build a chasse to run it and create a remote control to maneuver it, he said.

The robots place bean bags and knock out the other teams' bags. It’s difficult to build a device that high that can still function and not tip over, he said.

The project combines skills learned in a variety of classes including electronics and engineering.

In the past, many of the schools that have won were vocational schools that have more time to work on the robots, Neagle said.

Students learn problem solving, teamwork, mechanics of simple machines, engineering, electronics and programming.

They not only build the robot but also program the robot and its remote.

For the first part of the competition, the robot has to be computer programmed to do the task on its own and then a remote control is used, Neagle said.

Through hands-on learning, students apply math principles through gear ratios, pulleys and input verses output, he said.

In the class, Neagle said, students can apply what they previously learned on paper to the robots they build.

Jacob Wooton, vice president of the TSA club, is doing the programming for his robot and has learned a lot about the mechanics, he said.

His project partner and president of the TSA club, Michael Riggs, is learning a lot about inventing and how to design and create things used in his robot. The competition form makes the entire project fun, he said.

In its fifth year for Project Lead the Way, Central Hardin's program offers five classes — introduction to engineering design, digital electronics, engineering design and development, civil engineering and architecture and principles of engineering.

Two of the students, Weston and Kenton Nall, have a senior engineering design and development assignment, Neagle said. They completed four courses for a career major program.

It’s a problem-solving project. The engineering problem they are focusing on is children being left in cars. The solution they are working on is a warning device or app that alerts the parent that their child is still in the car.

They are applying all the skills they learned from other classes to solve their problem by building mechanical devises, researching patents, the design process and engineering.

Weston and Kenton also are teaming together to build a robot for the competition. They are in the trial and error stage of their design, Weston said.

Weston learning basic skills he might use in the future if he decides to go into a robotics field.

Kenton is learning basics in robotics, programming and physics using gears and leverage. He’s also developing good teamwork skills.

He’s hoping to use what he learns in Project Lead the Way classes for a future engineering degree.

All students who take these classes do not go into the engineering field but can use what they learned in any technical field related to mechanics, math or science.

“We’re not just teaching towards students to be engineers because not everybody’s going to be an engineer and take four years of calculus in college,” Neagle said.

Most career fields are getting more technical and the classes teach students the problem-solving and analytical thinking skills to apply science and math courses to real-life problems, to think like engineers, he said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.