Fort Worth program finds the fun in science, technology, engineering and math — seriously

02/16/2014 2:03 PM

02/16/2014 2:04 PM

John Brennan has a robot that can turn school into a game and he’s eager to show other kids how to build their own.

“It’s a good bot,” said John, 11, a member of the First Lego League Team at StarPoint School. The tiny robot is good because John and his teammates designed, built and programmed it to rescue pets, pull trees off power lines and do other deeds to help people recover from natural disasters.

Sure, it’s a toy and it operates on a tabletop where the downed trees are only inches tall and the power lines are plastic. But the lessons learned in its creation are preparing the students at StarPoint, a laboratory school at TCU, to become engineers of the future. During Engineers Week at Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, they and a group of their peers from Nolan Catholic High School will show other children how much fun they’re having.

The series of activities Tuesday through Saturday in the annual Engineers Week is designed to get kids excited about classes that lead to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Anne Herndon, the museum’s director of school services.

“For about three years we’ve wanted to have students teach other students,” Herndon said. “This is our first year to work with Nolan and StarPoint, giving them an opportunity to reach out to the community and share their expertise in robotics."

That will include letting children play with some of the robots, said Dr. Robert Scheer, Nolan’s pre-engineering program director and the coach for the school robotics team, the Robo Vikes.

“It’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have,” Scheer said.

The Robo Vikes spend many hours — sometimes till midnight — preparing robots for competitions, Scheer said, in addition to doing their schoolwork.

“They do it because they love it,” he said.

John and his fellow StarPoint robot builders are also pumped about Engineers Week.

“We get to teach people about robotics,” he said. “We might inspire them to go into this. We need more people to do that because there are not enough engineers and scientists.”

If engineering and science aren’t their destinies, perhaps students will go for mathematics or technology, said StarPoint student Sam Connelly, 13.

“This will help people understand physics and programming,” Connelly said. “Many people don’t like physics because it’s a harder class. I like the concept of it. It makes me want to learn about how things happen.”

The cadre of kids and their robots will be at the science and history museum, 1600 Gendy St., only Wednesday. But over the five-day event, about 200 engineers from Mouser Electronics, IBM and Lockheed Martin will interact with an expected 2,000 students, Herndon said.

Together they’ll build some motors and some machines to use them. They’ll take apart electronic equipment to see what’s inside. They’ll fly a fighter jet simulator or create a plane of their own and will challenge themselves to build the tallest and/or strongest structures.

Around every corner kids will discover engineers doing something interesting, something fascinating, something fun, Scheer said.

That’s all it takes to get children to learn, he said: “Find something they’re excited about, throw open the door and they’ll dive into it.”

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