Class projects to build towers and bridges out of everyday materials are not unusual but this year’s project had middle school students build underwater robots in one advanced class.
Students in Anne Ulstad’s geometry class — the most advanced math class available at Cheldelin Middle School — began building the robots in January. They have been working on the project for a few hours a week ever since.
Students in the class will take their projects to a regional underwater robotics competition May 10 in Lincoln City. It is organized by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center.
In the competition, the robots will maneuver in the water to pick up items from the bottom of a pool. The students in the class divided into three teams of five to six students and built their robots from PVC and electrically powered propellers.
The robots also have control tethers and tubes to the surface. They enable students to pump air into a robot to change its buoyancy. Ulstad’s students have tested their robots in the water at the Vineyard Mountain Swim Club three times.
Ulstad said she heard about the Marine Advanced Technology Program through a news article last spring, attended a workshop in the fall and then pursued the robot project during the two-hour flex periods set aside for learning opportunities that are in addition to regular school curriculum. In addition to building the robots, students also drafted business plans for their creations.
“I have always liked to incorporate some instant ‘engineering’ challenges into my math classes, and they are always done with such a high level of student interest and engagement,” she said. “I was pretty sure the project would be a hit, and it has exceeded my expectations.“
Unlike the FIRST Robotics competitions held at the high school level — which carry a $5,000 to $6,500 cost for registration and a parts kit alone — the underwater project cost just $500. Ulstad said the parent organization at Cheldelin provided a grant.