Dean Tech Students Learn High-Tech Skills by Moving Robots

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HOLYOKE, MA – Web Design and Computer Programming Instructor Karen Morneau says that whenever the Robotics Club meets at Dean Technical High School, more students show up.

The afterschool club is popular, she says, because students soon learn that working with robots “is so incredibly fun.” But taking part in the Robotics Club is also a great way to build a wide range of computer skills that will serve students as they enter careers that are increasingly dependent on high-tech equipment.

The Club utilizes robotics kits that were purchased for the school as part of a grant through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Students first build robots out of Lego building blocks. After plugging the robots into school computers, students watch them move in accordance with a program they designed using special robotics software.

Morneau says that while students start off by directing the robots to start, stop and make simple turns, “Soon they’ll be having these robots going down the hall to the main office.”

The robotics software helps students break down the often confusing language of computer programming. Each time they come in, she said, they are able to make the robots do more and more complex actions.

The Robotics Club is part of the CONNECTIONS After School Program funded through a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 21st Century Afterschool grant. The Collaborative for Educational Services, which has been managing Dean for the past two years, worked with the Holyoke Public Schools in securing grant funding for the CONNECTIONS program as well as the robotics laboratory.

According to Dean CONNECTIONS program director, Stacey Funston, CONNECTIONS started about two months ago, but already there are over 100 students participating.

Other clubs in the CONNECTIONS include mixed martial arts, urban Latin dance, hip hop, percussion and piano. Students participating in CONNECTIONS also take part in academic help sessions, as well as MCAS preparation and career readiness workshops.

For more information about the CONNECTIONS program at Dean Tech, contact Stacey Funston at 534-2071 x 4179.

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