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Jacobs Fork Middle School students itching to climb behind the wheel of a car learn how a build a skeletal vehicle years before they are eligible for a license.
They use miniature gears, wheels and belts to construct working models of car transmissions during automation and robotics class.
The class is part of Jacobs Fork Middle's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative, which promotes hands-on learning for professional success beyond the classroom.
"Mathematics now is such an integral part of what students need to graduate," said Dr. Jeff Isenhour, Jacobs Fork Middle principal. "Science and mathematics are married, and technology is the ring bearer."
The automation and robotics class is made available through Project Lead the Way, which is a national nonprofit organization designed to implement hands-on science and math curricula in middle and high schools.
"Teachers in the building have been willing to take some risks," Isenhour said. "They're calculated risks, and they're well-thought out. There's just a pivotal connection to a highly technical economic environment."
Jeff Brotherton teaches the automation and robotics class at Jacobs Fork Middle. During the class, students learn how to create basic mechanism systems, and as the class progresses, students tackle more complex projects and mechanisms.
"That's really what the class is designed to do -- get people involved in engineering," Brotherton said.
He attended two-week training through Project Lead the Way to learn how to educate students during the automation and robotics class.
Brotherton gives students assignments to construct various devices, from a conveyor belt to an automated thermostat. Students not only use miniature pieces to build devices, but they also use computers to program devices to work using electricity.
"All of these things in our world function on the same set of principles," Isenhour said. "We want (students) to have the foundational basics of math and engineering.'"
If one element of students' device, whether it's the electrical, mechanical or programming aspect, isn't working, nothing works.
"They have to test each and every single step," Brotherton said. "It's about teamwork and problem solving."
For student Austin Elliot, who is considering a career in engineering, the class is a chance to test drive his skills and learn from his mistakes by building mechanism systems.
"I think I want to become an engineer," he said. "I like building things."
The automation and robotics class is part of each Jacobs Fork Middle student's required eighth-grade class rotation.
"We wanted to make it a mandated course, so that all of our students are exposed to computer programming and other technologies," Isenhour said.
Jacobs Fork Middle staff work with teachers at Fred T. Foard High School to ensure the career and technical education curricula continue after students leave the middle school.
For more information about other STEM projects at Jacob's Fork Middle School, see the Saturday edition of The O-N-E.