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Dahlgren scientists spend time with students at Walker Grant Middle School

Students at Walker-Grant Middle School in Fredericksburg have learned about programming robots hands-on with Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientists.

STEM in-classroom co-lead at NSWCDD Megan Doblix visited several science classrooms at Walker-Grant to assist with the programming of the robots. Over the last several weeks, the students were tasked with building the EV3 robots and started learning how to program the robots to perform specific tasks such as picking up boxes, spinning in a circle and traveling along the perimeter of the map. The students were then given a packet with 11 different tasks in increasing complexity to complete with their robot.

NSWCDD’s Technology Office, through its STEM Outreach Program, extends the opportunity to school districts for Dahlgren personnel to assist in the building, programming and execution of tasks for EV3 robots. NSWCDD provides resources to schools, such as challenge course maps, EV3 robotics kits, computers or tables as necessary and student packets, to guide the experience. While the goal is to teach the students how to program and be the ember to spark the STEM flame, it is also beneficial for the students to relate to the NSWCDD representatives and imagine themselves in STEM-related fields. A team of volunteers for a two-week period spent time assisting with the program at Walker-Grant.

“I like seeing the students come out of their shells,” Doblix said. “For some, this may be the first time they see this as a possible career. The work we do here lets students see that someday they could be in our position.” Students asked questions and took advice on how to complete their missions successfully.

Two days later, NSWCDD personnel returned to the school to continue assisting the students with their packets. STEM outreach volunteer and computer scientist from the Integrated Combat Systems Department, Jonathan Clark, sees the program as a way to give back to the community.

“When I was in middle school, we did not have these opportunities,” he said. “There were clubs after school that five or six of us would join, and we had representatives from Dahlgren come help us. Now, having the chance to give back, when I found out there were opportunities to volunteer inside the classroom, I thought it was fantastic! Those clubs and representatives helped me decide that this was something I wanted to do for a living.”

Clark helped students problem solve one of the most difficult activities – programming the robot to move forward, pick up a box and return to where it started. Students then would write down in their packets how many steps it took to program the robot, how many attempts they had trying to program the robot and how they programmed the robot to perform the necessary functions.

“Engineers and computer scientists are just problem solvers,” Clark explained. “They use tools like programming to solve those problems. Watching these students break down the challenge, work through the problem and then implement those changes, those are skills that these scientists are going to need in the future.”

Photos courtesy U-S Navy

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