Rockets, robots featured at Scotlandville magnet school expo

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“When adults see kids doing these projects, it shows them that it’s possible for their own kids.” Kathie Johnson, Scotlandville Pre-Engineering Academy Magnet teacher

Rockets flew and robots swam at Scotlandville Pre-Engineering Academy Magnet on Saturday during the school’s third annual Engineering Expo.

The children who turned out for the event visited 20 different stations to participate in activities from shooting off water bottle rockets to making hand sanitizer.

The purpose of the engineering expo was to recruit students for the middle school and to educate the public about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs, magnet lead teacher and event organizer Kathie Johnson said.

The school has 530 students currently enrolled.

“When adults see kids doing these projects, it shows them that it’s possible for their own kids,” Johnson said.

At least 10 parents put in applications for their children to attend the school during the expo.

About 50 students ran most of the stations. Activities were based on classes offered at Scotlandville Magnet and activities at after-school clubs.

Math teacher India LeBlanc assisted her students with the chess station. The school offers an eighth-grade math chess class as well as an after- school chess club.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of students that want to participate,” LeBlanc said.

Students from Scotlandville Magnet won first place at a chess tournament in December at Catholic High, competing against four other schools.

“I thought they would be nervous competing, but they weren’t,” LeBlanc said.

Chess teaches students critical thinking and analytic problem solving skills. In addition to playing chess, they spend time studying games dating as far back as the 1800s.

“It has helped them learn to look at a problem and break it into pieces, thinking about how to get to their goal,” LeBlanc said.

Seventh-grader Kirsten Cannon showed off a model city she built with a team of two other students for the Louisiana-Mississippi Regional Future City Competition. The team came in second place in the contest.

Cannon was mostly responsible for the painting and artwork for the model city. She also made sure everything was to scale, a detail that had to be precise for the competition. Using all recycled materials, such as old markers and potato chip cans, made the project even more of a challenge, she said.

The model city used solar panels programmed to turn toward sources of light as well as offshore windmills for energy. Plants were grown hydroponically on tiered towers to save land.

Several different kinds of robots were on display.

About 180 students participate in the Robotics Academy at the school, which includes classes from basic to advanced. Sixth-graders in the basic robotics class build robots with special Lego sets and use computers to program the robots to complete tasks.

Sixth-grader Harlow Tanner demonstrated a few of the creations, including a moving Ferris wheel and a robotic Santa Claus in his sleigh complete with a red-nosed reindeer.

The advanced robotics class uses Tetrix sets manufactured by Pitsco. The students must use a detailed, line-by-line computer code to program the metal robots, teacher Ingrid Cruze said. Visitors were allowed to test the robots, using a remote control to try to make them fetch a ball and deposit it into a square tray.

Outside, aquatics robots swam in a kiddie pool.

In April 2013, an all-girl team from the school placed eighth in the international Marine Advanced Technology Education Underwater Robotics Competition in Houston. Scotlandville Magnet was the only middle school competing against high schools and community colleges.

“If you get girls involved, they will rise to the top of the class,” Cruze said. “Our girls rock.”

The students built the underwater robots from top to bottom, using wires and PVC pipe. The design is tricky because the robots must be able to move easily in the water but not float. Even the remote controls for the robots were built by the students, Cruze said.