STEM Academy expanding opportunities

Published 3:28 pm Thursday, September 27, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

This school year brought the Chilton County Schools STEM Academy back to the LeCroy Career Technical Center campus.

STEM programs had been housed at Chilton County High School and Jemison High School last school year, but space limitations prompted the move back to its original location.

“A class like this has a lot of equipment, so we moved it back to centralized to make it easier on us,” teacher Jay LeCroy said.

“Last year, if you were a student at one of the smaller schools, you had to drive to Clanton or drive to Jemison, now they can get on a bus … and come here, so now it’s more inclusive,” teacher Jason Sosa said.

The program has four times the classroom space as last year.

“We physically did not have the room to do to a lot of the activities that we would typically do,” Sosa said.

Activities such as working on a car for Electrathon competition, where students had previously placed first in the state.

Sosa said students will competing this year and “reclaim our title.”

This additional space will allow the program to prepare and practice for competitions, meaning students will be able to enter more of them this year. It also allows for new classes, including Senior Engineering Research and Design, Advanced Robotics and eSports to being add to the program’s lineup of opportunities.

ESports will begin in February.

“A good many of the students are pretty excited about that,” Sosa said. “In the computer science class a lot of what we do to learn coding revolves around the students making games, so it kind of ties it that they are learning to develop games and appreciate what difficulties of designs of games they play everyday … It gives them something to do as a team with their competitive nature and build teamwork skills.”

Other classes include Honors Physics, Introduction to Robotics, Introduction To Engineering Design and Computer Science.

Students will also be learning about the Internet of Things and working with wearable smart technology based on work LeCroy did during a fellowship with Southern Research and work with the Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

LeCroy said being on the LCTC campus also gave the students access to additional tools to build things for the program, such as a track for a robot.

Learning computer coding is also integrated into each of the robotics classes.

Student Anali Bautista said she enjoys the engineering aspects of the program.

Students Keneth Orozco said he wanted to join the program because the classes sounded interesting.

In a recent robotics class, students programmed robots they had created with a movable arm and claw to move in certain ways at different intervals on a wooded table.

Tiffany Wise said having a motor that was more powerful than the other on the same robot was creating challenges with making the robot go straight. Wise said they were re-writing the program code to balance out the power generated by the motors. She and her teammate Al Atkins both had previous robotics experience.

LeCroy said students used Robot C++ computer language to program the robots. While they were using a version designed for schools, it is as close to the industrial code as possible.

During the course, students will also use Robot C and Python.

Student Tyler Rigby said he was interested in the course because he wants to become an engineer.

He was also looking forward to building robots.

So far, the class has completed two challenges with the robots. The first one involved picking up balls and transporting them and the programming challenge to have the robot move certain ways. Student Jesse Scott said the first one was more difficult because of trying to keep control of the robot.

Bausista and Orozco said getting the claw on the robot to work was challenging.  The team switched from wheels to treads to help with control.

“Building a claw robot — that’s amazing to me and programming is even better,” Orozco said.

“I like being able to do the angles and everything,” Bautista said. “I like the mathematic part of this.”

Sosa said the engineering design class is to help students be able to draw designs for projects. The class starts with just pencil and paper sketches, but focuses on computer aided drawing.