Little Miami Junior High Blog

Gateway giving hands-on STEM experience

Posted on: January 13, 2017

Spinning tires. Drag racing. Gear-to-weight ratios. Is this an episode of “Monster Garage”? No, it’s just science class at Little Miami Junior High School.

Seventh and eighth graders work as engineers, mechanics, analysts and more in Gateway class, a part of the Project Lead the Way pre-engineering satellite program from the Warren County Career Center. In this semester-long class led by teachers Juliana Fortes-Thomas and Molly Addis, students get hands-on opportunities to use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in real-world applications. This is the first year for the Gateway program at the junior high, and more than 500 students have taken the class.

Just before winter break, Addis was guiding teams through a unit on robotic vehicles. Using VEX robotics parts, students first assembled the vehicles from the ground up, using any design they preferred. Some had four wheels, some three and most looked more like an Erector set on in-line skate wheels than cars. Students needed to set up transmissions and other means of propulsion tied to a battery-operated engine.

Teams then had to program the vehicle’s brain using an online drag-and-drop program to create a command list, which would tell the car to move. They then popped the thumb drive out of the computer, popped it into the car and went to the test track, a 20-foot section of hallway in the junior high school.

At first, the challenge was to just get the car to go in a forward direction. But it didn’t take long for students to learn that, in a head-to-head race, gear ratios are everything. Teams who had discovered that transferring power from a large gear to a small one saw their vehicles travel at three or four times the speed of those that did not.

The vehicle unit is just one project that students work on in Gateway. Students trace the history, development, and influence of automation and robotics as they learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation, and computer control systems. Students use the VEX Robotics platform to design, build, and program real-world objects such as traffic lights, toll booths, and robotic arms.