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SRCS sixth-graders create robots to aid in agriculture

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FORT COVINGTON— The sixth-grade students at the Salmon River Middle School are hard at work creating agricultural robots as part of the school’s STEM Initiative.

At the SRCS Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, sixth-grade teacher David Bish said, “Our task was to design, build and construct and bring to life an agricultural robot to perform a task. We divided ourselves into corporations and within the corporations the students have different jobs from CEOs to accountants, to builders, planners, research and development, inventory specialist and a newsroom and media specialists as well.”

The students were required to apply for the positions they wanted. They had to submit a resume and cover letter and go through an interview process.

Mr. Bish said the idea for the agrobotics came when Middle School Principal Tammy Russell was approached about the need for an engineering program to go with the STEM Initiative. Ms. Russell asked SRC Superintendent Jane Collins for help in finding something for the students to do. Collins put the sixth-grade teachers in touch with Clarkson University.

Dr. James Carroll, a professor in the robotics department at Clarkson, gave the students the idea of agrobotics. Mr. Bish told the board that 1 percent of the country’s population is devoted to agriculture.

“For the past six weeks they have been working in these corporations to establish a driving question, which is how do we as a corporation design an agricultural robot that is going to help farmers in the north country. The goal is to create mission tables and they are going to do a simulation,” said Mr. Bish.

In the morning, the students meet with the other corporation’s CEOs or marketing specialists. Then the corporations all meet up with their members to continue to work on their robots.

Each robot is programed to perform different tasks. The students have made a mission table — basically an obstacle course for the robot to perform the tasks. For example, one corporation made a robot for an apple orchard. The robot will scan the trees for pests to alerts the farmer that tree may need to have pesticides applied.

Another corporation is working on a robot for a dairy farm. The robot is tasked with feeding, milking the cows and checking the milk for antibiotics.

Some other robots are to be used for soybeans, maple syrup production, strawberries, potatoes, soybeans and corn.

The students are building scale models to demonstrate how their robot will work.

Not all the students are part of a corporation. There is also a newsroom where students come up with a morning talk show called The Morning Rooster, a daily newspaper called the Daily Feed, a radio talk show called “Robo Radio” and a blog called Tarbell’s Touch Sensor. All of these media are produced by the students.

The students are running the show and everything is hands on. When they have a problem, they ask their peers for help. The teachers are merely there to steer them in the right direction if they have a question. The goal is to have the students work out their problems on their own.

Mr. Bish talked about how the Common Core education standards can be incorporated in to the STEM Initiative.

“The Common Core lends beautifully to STEM because it puts the power in the hands of the student and they are doing self evaluation, peer evaluation and reflecting on their work. As teachers we are not standing at the front of the room talking at them, we are facilitating. We are presenting them with a problem and allowing them to be creative; we are allowing them to think critically, collaborate and communicate with one another,” Mr. Bish said.

“This is the best sixth grade that I have had the privilege of teaching. They are respectful of one another; they are professional and work extremely hard. You can walk into any one of our classrooms and they are not wasting their time, they are focused on this project. They realize that this is a very big deal. They know they have people coming in and they want to do their absolute best.”

Next week, members of the corporations will be doing a presentation in front of a panel of experts in the hopes that their model is selected as the winner. They are going to be evaluated by Mr. Carroll, representatives from the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson and some robotics students from Clarkson. The winning team is going to be turned into a “limited liability corporation.” According to Mr. Bish, if one of the students goes to Clarkson there will be money waiting for them so they can turn this into a reality.

“Great things have been happening this year. As a teacher, it is a privilege to come to work every day and to see kids excited about learning and see kids excited about career paths and learning how to integrate engineering, technology, science and math into their everyday lives,” Mr. Bish said. “Students are engaged and extremely passionate about learning and excited about learning. That is extremely positive for us. As a teacher personally, it is truly the way to be teaching. It is engaging, it is fun, it’s exhausting but rewarding at the same time. It is amazing to say I work with kids and they have represented our school beautifully. They shake people’s hands, they look them in the eye and they talk about what they have learned.”

Mr. Bish also wanted to take time at the meeting to thank all of those who have played a part in making the STEM initiative so successful.

“From the Salmon River STEM team, I would like to thank Mrs. Russell for your support and your dedication to us. I would like to thank Ms. Collins for your support as well and the Board of Education’s support to do this type of learning, which is the way education should be moving,” Mr. Bish said.

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