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Full Steam ahead at BHS

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STEAM Week projects: from left, Nadhiri Simons-Worrell, Katie Grainge, Yulia Isaeva and Ashlyn Lee (missing Kameron Young) (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Making robots out of Lego, building workable boats and playing instruments made entirely out of trash were among the activities presented by students at Bermuda High School yesterday as part of their Steam Week projects.

The school hall was abuzz with activity as the secondary students invited the public to see a multitude of projects they had been working on during the week as part of the school’s increased Steam [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] curriculum.

The students were grouped to work on one of 12 different projects where they solved “real-life problems” incorporating portions of Steam. Working in mixed-age groups, they spent three-and-a-half days choosing problems and planning solutions.

Year 9 students Lara Backberg and Kristy Sanchez focused their project on using robotics to deal with environmental issues. The robots were made using Lego Mindstorms NXT, a robotics kit that uses a small computer to operate robots made from specialised Lego bricks. Simple programmes were downloaded on to the computers allowing the robots to perform tasks including removing litter and repairing infrastructure.

In keeping with the “green” motif, Kristy and Lara used the robots to adjust solar panels, repair dams and put out smoke stacks.

Lara believes that instead of using robotics for space exploration, their abilities should be turned to improving the Earth first. They hope to one day use the robots to monitor alert systems in factories like Belco, to avoid endangering people who would originally be placed there.

Year 9 students Kiara Burcher and Shayla Calauro demonstrated how their Lego robots could carry out a series of tasks similar to those of Nasa robots in space.

Kiara explained: “Our group did mission 2, which was going from the base and collecting an astronaut, but we had to collect a specific astronaut — the robot has to identify which is which.”

Shayla added: “It uses a colour sensor and we also have to programme it to know how to use it. It detects one certain colour, and it knows whether or not to go there. We programmed it to use a lever to rise up and pick the astronaut up and then go back to base.”

Kiara said she was interested in aerospace engineering and enjoyed the challenging aspects of the task. “I like the programming of it, I like computers and I like coding. I like that it is hard — it didn’t work a few times but I enjoyed having that sense of relief when it did work out and then you know how to keep going until it is almost perfect. I like trial and error.”

Another group of students worked on a more familiar project; designing and building a boat from scratch.

The students were able to look at a real Optimist dinghy to get some ideas before designing their own.

A group that included year 9 students Jaime Procter, Leahnae Morton-Richardson and Emily Williams was able to create a boat that successfully floated on the water. The girls listed their materials, which included a plywood sheet, planks, screws, wooden poles, zip ties, plastic sheeting, duct tape and waterproof chloroplast for the sides.

Jaime explained: “We started by making a little model, then made it to scale. We started cutting out the frame with an electric saw and then pieced everything together.

“We used engineering and mathematics in the project and you have to be creative as well. There was a bit of science involved because we needed to know about forces such as buoyancy. It was really fun and shows you what you can do if you put your mind to it.”

Government officials attended the event including Minister of Education Cole Simons and Shadow Minister for Education Lovitta Foggo.

They all accepted the rather unusual challenge of tasting goods including pizza, banana muffins and cookies, made with ground crickets as a protein-packed substitute for flour. The aim for the students was to find innovative ways to help feed the population in Bermuda. The officials said they could not taste much difference and even preferred one or two items made with the crickets.

The music and physics department combined their efforts and formed a Steam Punk Orchestra with instruments created from recycled materials.

“In the beginning we all decided what instruments we wanted to do and then we got into groups,” said Katarina Rance, 13.

“Last Friday we went to the Tynes Bay dump and collected some scraps that we thought we could use to improve our instruments.”

The students spent three days modelling debris including materials such as cans, bottles and pipes into an array of percussion and string instruments.

Katarina used a circuit board and a large tin to create a music box that played portions of songs with the help of computer programming.

After some impromptu practice, the 28-person band performed Queen’s We Will Rock You.

BHS has prioritised Steam learning and in March launched its Leading the Way Campaign for Innovation which will see a Steam centre (the two facilities are the Innovation Centre and Arts Wing) due to open in 2020.

Catherine Hollingsworth, Head of Secondary, found that problem-solving skills could be difficult to develop in the classroom and so the projects nurtured the curiosity, creativity and perseverance the children needed.

“I think it’s really important that you bring together all the different disciplines...so students can see real-life application to everything they’re learning in the classroom,” said Ms Hollingsworth.

STEAM Week projects: V3 Cubed (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
STEAM Week projects: Shayla Calauro (left) and Kiara Burcher (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
STEAM Week projects (Photograph by Akil Simmons)