In the not-so-distant past, the only time anyone heard of rovers was when they landed on Mars or surveyed the bottom of the ocean.
Now, rovers can be found at Mt. Laurel’s Harrington Middle School.
As part of the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program, students are putting together robots and rovers that could only be dreamt about by students from a generation ago.
Maureen Barrett, the instructor for the STEM program at Harrington, said the new program is giving kids knowledge and skills that can’t be obtained in other classes.
Barrett was hired to be the STEM instructor after she proposed that the class build an underwater rover.
“I had seen these underwater robots at these science conferences,” she said. “I thought that if I teach ocean exploration and how we explore and why we explore, then we build the robots for the engineering side.”
This plan resulted in the class building a submersible that is remote controlled by students and easily navigates underwater.
Students in the STEM class work on projects where they design and build a rover based off a scenario given by Barrett. The class is very hands on in that the students are actually building and wiring the robots.
The program quickly exploded since its inception. Barrett and her students were invited to Barnegat Bay to participate in Reclam the Bay, a non-profit project that is growing and maintaining a living environment for clams and oysters. They brought their rover to help work on the project.
The STEM program has also competed in a contest at Drexel University with their rover. Barrett says the kids are excited to participate in these programs. During Mt. Laurel’s fall festival in September, she said the number of volunteers she got to do a rover demonstration was extraordinary.
“It gives them an introduction to careers they haven’t thought of,” Barrett said. “I know it’s only middle school students, but it may have planted a seed in their head of what they want to be when they grow up.”
As one can imagine, funding the STEM program is not an easy task.
However, the school district has received help from outside organizations that help to make the program possible. Lockheed Martin approached the school district just as the STEM program was being tossed around and donated grants to get the program off the ground.
Other organizations, such as the MIT Sea Perch Program and the Sallie Mae Fund, have donated grants to keep the program running smoothly.
All the funds and hard work paid off just last month. Mt. Laurel’s STEM program was honored with a school leader award at the New Jersey School Boards Association Convention in Atlantic City.
“I’m lucky that the district decided to go with this program, and the students are lucky they have this program,” Barrett said.