Middle School Students Win Automation & Robotics Award

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When Brianna, Semiloore, and Tenya began taking Boston Prep’s first-ever seventh grade engineering course this year, they never dreamed they would walk home from a statewide design showcase with the top award.  Similarly, while first-year Boston Prep teacher Stephen Swiech is known for his high expectations, if he’d been asked earlier this year about our chances in winning such an award, even he would likely have said that felt ambitious.  After all, several weeks into the school year, he was still waiting for kits to arrive, teaching automation and robotics in our brand new Phoenix Design Center without any materials for hands-on design or building.  Yet, despite all odds, in the first year of the course, Boston Prep students earned the top award in a recent showcase of engineering design, selected among students from throughout the state of Massachusetts.

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Mass STEM Hub, whose goal is to provide schools with access to and support for the next level of STEM education, organized the Design Showcase, held on April 26 at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).  Over 100 middle school students attended, presenting their projects from their Automation and Robotics courses, an engineering and design curriculum offered to schools in partnership with Project Lead the Way (PLTW).  In this course, students design, build, wire, program, use motors and sensors and troubleshoot – learning how engineers do their work while using the engineering design process throughout the course. Student teams were challenged to invent and build a pull toy using what they learned about simple machines and gear designs. The toys for this showcase were developed as part of a design challenge to create 21st century versions of vintage pull toys from PEM’s collection.

Students showcased their projects, and all of the students received feedback from volunteer judges on their projects and presentations, connecting the work they did in the classroom to the work these experts do daily. Volunteer judges included professionals from PEM, iRobot, BSC Group, SunPower, and MassDOT. The volunteer judges were impressed by the great work and excited to share their insights with students and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.

In attendance was Ellise LaMotte, Director of STEM Diversity at Tufts University, who emphasized the value of broadening access to STEM education. “Particularly students who are not represented in STEM,” noted LaMotte. “The women who were here that got excited about it, the folks who were here of color who got excited about it – those folks are underrepresented in the STEM space.”

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Three teams of Boston Prep middle school students attended the showcase to present their projects.  Seventh graders Brianna, Semilore, and Tenya earned the Overall Showcase Winner award, which recognizes the highest overall mastery of the engineering design process and a demonstration of a deep understanding of the mechanics of their pull toy. The group created a multi-level arcade-themed pull toy.

Students shouted out teacher Stephen Swiech as a key driver of the success of this year’s new engineering program.  Eighth grader Khoral shared, “Mr. Swiech is so energetic and is always in a good mood.  He is so helpful and takes the time to help trouble shoot when something isn’t going right with a project.  I’m always excited to learn in his class because when the teacher is excited, the work is more fun.”