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Students take robot-cars for a test drive


"I'm very interested in video games," said Gunner Mohn, one of the students in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Computer Science class. "That's a pretty common thing for most people who get into this stuff."

He moved to Marshfield this year, but at his previous school he participated in block programming over the summer.

"I always thought I wasn’t that bad at it, so I thought why not take a class for it," he said. "Plus, text space coding is something I want to do and have not done before."

For the PLTW computer science course, one of the projects students conduct is a self-driving car. David Gray, who teaches three computer sciences classes for MHS PLTW, introduced students to this type of coding when they came back from Christmas break.

"My students already have an entire semester of making apps for Android phones, so they know how to think through a problem and find a logical way to solve it," he said.

With the cars, students create grids and learn how to drive each grid, using the color coded blocks they enter into their computer program.

"The challenging part about this class is correcting a code," said Mathew Courtney, another student in Gray’s class. "You have to take apart each piece, block by block."

His project partner, Ian Siccama, added, "If the algorithm is wrong, then everything else gets messed up, so you have to go back and work through it again. It takes time, but once you get it down, then it’s fun to watch your car move."

Senior Michaela Bledsoe said one of her favorite projects was creating the apps for the Android phones. She worked with Jackson Oberbeck and Tanner Plemmons on their project.

"We had another idea for that one, but that didn't work out, so we actually put that together pretty fast," she said. "I liked that one. I really enjoy the class. The first two days I was in it I wanted to drop out because it was confusing and difficult, but once I got into it I really liked it. I’m excited to do Python and work with that at the end of the semester. It’s more like coding where you see on TV those lines of just letters. Right now, we’re doing blocks of color on this, which is simpler."

Project Lead the Way has been at Marshfield High School since 2013. The program creates an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive, according to Project Lead the Way.org.

"This is a company that provides curriculum for engineering classes," said Brian Zweerink, one of the PLTW teachers at Marshfield High School. "Overall, it’s a really good program. It allows a teacher to get their supplies set up and attend training on how the class is to be taught." 

Zweerink teaches Introduction to Engineering, which focuses on the design and drafting class, Principles of Engineering.

"This dives deeper into machine control, programming, and structural design math, and Digital Electronics, which is all about electrical signal logic," he said. "Digital Electronics is my favorite class to teach. When I went to the training for it, it was two weeks of 6am to 11pm work, and very difficult, but also mind-blowing. How do you count when you only have ones and zeros?  How do you add one and one together when you don't get to use the number two? It’s fascinating."

For Zweerink, his PLTW class are sometimes small, with just a handful of students, and sometimes large with students at every available computer, which in his classroom is about 25.  

"In my department we also have a PLTW Aerospace class, which is taught by Mr. Pennington," said Zweerink. "Before I was a teacher, I designed food, dairy and biopharmaceutical processing equipment. These classes teach many of the things I learned in that career. It’s a really good program, and it's a dream job to get to teach it."

He added, "I think if I'm teaching this well, my students will mostly get a vision of the possibilities in the engineering field. They learn to think like an engineer, and use new skills and tools to be creative problem solvers, so many high school classes are pure content, and never have an opportunity to utilize that knowledge to do something creative.  Even if these students never go into an engineering field these classes should help them learn to solve problems."

With his classes, Gray said, "When the opportunity to have a computer science PLTW course came up, I stepped up to help because I saw that the students needed it and wanted it. The first time a student sees a self moving car go forward is the greatest thing in world. It’s a lot of fun to see their reactions when they’ve developed a solution to their problem and learned something new."


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