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Spotlight on Summer Middle School Program

Mr. Jim Parsons works with students in the Automation & Robotics class – a course offered in DPIE’s STEM Enrichment Summer Program for 5th to 7th Grade students. DPIE’s STEM Enrichment Programs are open to students from all school districts.

Mr. Jim Parsons, Fallon Middle School Teacher, STEM Middle School Summer Course – Automation & Robotics.

Yes, we are in the middle of summer. However, there are students moving about at Dublin High School. Approximately 700 middle and high school students are enrolled in various courses offered through the DPIE STEM Enrichment Academy. To provide a snapshot, we peeked into the Automation & Robotics course taught by Fallon Middle School teacher, Mr. Jim Parsons. During the common academic calendar, he teaches science and the Project Lead the Way program.

During our visit, the classroom was buzzing as multiple teams were refining their robots that would soon be involved in a “drag race” on the black top. The object was to design/build a robot that would cross a distance in the least amount of time. Experimenting with multiple tires and gears, the challenge would be to find the balance between acceleration and top speed. On top of the mechanical piece, a program must be written in order to propel the robot forward as quickly as possible.

We spoke to Mr. Parsons to gain his perspective on this fascinating course.

DPIE: Since these are elective courses that you normally teach at Fallon, how do you get your students to focus on similar projects, yet in a fairly compressed time?

Parsons: “Since we compress what would normally be a semester long class into 3 weeks, it allows me to pick and choose the projects that I think are most engaging for the students. Although we may not go into as much depth to the finer details, I do address major concepts that students will need to know in order to be successful in the class. For example, in robotics we stress the importance of understanding gear ratios and how to manipulate the inputs and outputs to best achieve your goal. But we may not spend as much time on the the math that goes behind calculating the exact ratios.”

DPIE: From what we observed, there really wasn’t a lecture in the classroom. It more closely resembled self-discovery. Comments?

Parsons: “My goal is to have the students learn through doing. Although most of their time is spent working with their small groups, there is a need for lectures. This is especially true when learning the skills of coding, as this is a brand-new skill for most of the students. The way that I try to make it as engaging as possible, is to have the students follow along on their computers and then be able to try their code out as we go. An example of this would be when learning how to make the robot motors work. I will have them use a general code we all do together, and then they will download to each of the projects, seeing their code work or not, gives them instant feedback. As their skills grow they are more comfortable manipulating the codes and robots to their own personal preference.”

DPIE: Since there is no grade earned, how do you and the students evaluate the success of the course?

Parsons: “Because there is no grade being given the goal is get the students to be motivated by something other than grades. I think we can see success when the students are excited to be there and to want to push themselves to do better with each task or project. If the students are motivated to go beyond the minimum requirements and enjoy their time doing so, that is when we know and the students know, that they are successful.”

DPIE would like to thank Jim Parsons for inviting us into his classroom. The students were clearly engaged and the drag race was a lot of fun. Enrollments are still being accepted for our various summer programs.

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