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Two Grants Advance STEM at Orange Avenue School

At Orange Avenue School, recent CFEE grants provided technologies that are opening up new avenues of learning and creativity to students.

One grant paid for Lego Mindstorm robotics kits, designed to reinforce science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) knowledge through hands-on lessons. One lesson calls for designing and programming a robot to follow zigzagging red tape on the floor, a task that three seventh-grade students took up with gusto—a month before the class was scheduled to tackle this particular challenge.

“Something like this, where they sat right down and figured out the line-following on their own, makes me feel proud and happy for them,” said the grant applicant, applied technology teacher Shannon Pena. “The students get very excited for building the robots in different ways and conquering the different challenges.”


The trial-and-error process of programming the robots also helps students push past any hangups about making a mistake.


“Worst case, if they make a mistake, the robot continues off the line. You turn it around, you start over,” she said. “I tell them all the time, ‘You’re going to make mistakes. It’s OK, because that’s how you learn.’ I don't want them to be afraid, because so many of the kids are afraid to fail.”


The robots are used in a popular technology class that integrates math, programming, and engineering. The grant paid for new, more advanced robots to replace the worn-out models the class had been using.


“The one great thing about the robotics is that the students work together,” Assistant Principal Steve Van Dam said. “They have to learn how to take each other’s ideas and make them into one to accomplish the tasks.”


Another grant funded a 3D printer, which is stimulating students’ interest in learning to design things, since the printer makes their designs tangible. It will be used schoolwide, allowing students to make models to support math, history, biology, or other subjects while also learning about widely used up-and-coming technology.


“The kids get really excited, even if it’s not something they designed, just to see the 3D printer working, and how these designs go from a computer screen to come out as an actual object,” said Pena, who co-applied for the grant along with Principal Marc Edery. “They get to see the possibilities.”

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