Young Allen East "techies" post with their STEM projects in the school's Common Area this past Tuesday. If it wasn't for the cold and snow outside, you'd thing it was a scene from Silicon Valley.
Young Allen East "techies" post with their STEM projects in the school's Common Area this past Tuesday. If it wasn't for the cold and snow outside, you'd thing it was a scene from Silicon Valley.

HARROD — The modernistic 21st Century is here, ready or not.

And the Allen East Schools are showing up for it.

Exhibit A: The “STEM Showcase” this week at the school’s Commons Area.

STEM is an acronym for: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And the synergy of all this new, high-tech stuff was on impressive display last Tuesday.

Student projects included robotic animals, robotic drag racers, 3-D printer project and more.

What’s more, using those 3-D printers, the students were developing an awfully special item for a population of people who are physically impaired. And I’ll get to that shortly.

At the apex of all this creative innovation is Allen East STEM instructor Mary Burgei.

She said projects from third graders to ninth graders were on display, and she singled out, as an example, some sleek, robotic dragsters. Gears are calibrated, hooked up to motors, coded on the computer… AND OFF THEY GO!

And “GO” they do.

Ms. Bergei said 16 dragsters were built, with the fastest one traveling 15ft. in 2.6 seconds! In the STEM student dragster world, that’s moving!

“It was absolutely crazy (how fast it went)!” Ms. Bergei explained.

What’s more, a group of ninth grade students collaborated on a “robotic monkey.” That is - fashioning together screws, pulleys, gears - the students were able to get the monkey to “jump up and down” in a tree they made for it, all in a temperate climate zone, no less. And the genius was no bananas needed, just batteries.

Incidentally, these projects didn’t just smoothly fall into place. There were fits and starts, lots of trial and error.

Ms. Burgei said: “I teach the students failure is not a bad thing – if you learn from it.” Just look at Edison and that light bulb thing, for example.

Ms. Burgei also explained that she intentionally has students work in groups to learn a variety of teamwork skills – preparing them for real work environments later.

And some of this teamwork happened among a quite creative group of 7th graders.

They were making plastic balls on a 3-D printer. But not just any old balls.

The students were designing “therapeutic balls” for people with cerebral palsy. This hits close to home for Ms. Burgei. Her brother has cerebral palsy. [He was afflicted with brain cancer at birth, and part of the brain was removed, leading to the physical malady.]

Besides what she shared, Ms. Burgei said the students also learned about cerebral palsy through a series of videos. And they learned, among other things, that people afflicted with this have reduced motor skills, including very little control with their fingers.

So the students undertook a project to design balls that would be easier to catch, easier to hold, easier to throw…

Ms. Burgei explained some designs included small knobs on the balls, shallow dimples, a coarser surface… Each quite innovative.

Ms. Burgei ended by saying that her teaching philosophy is to help students understand that “problem solving doesn’t happen in two minutes.” And that it’s the process that is sometimes much more important than the finished OVERSET FOLLOWS:product.

Something kids have been learning down through the ‘centuries,’ even long before there were ever robotic monkeys.