By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 25, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 25, 2013) -- Although school has been out of session for quite some time, some children are continuing their education by learning through the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, and this time they're conquering mountains.
This week's GEMS program, which is offered at Fort Rucker's U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, taught students about robotics and the different uses and benefits of robotics, according to Kelly Stupfel, lead resource teacher for the GEMS program.
"(The children) had to use their imagination to build and program (robots) using different gears, mechanisms and equipment," said Stupfel. "They are programming the robots to climb a 'mountain.'"
Throughout the classroom, various obstacles were set up with steep slopes and humps that the children's robots had to overcome. The students were able to work together in groups and figure out ways to make their particular robot able to climb the slopes. The children had to consider different variables such as the angle of the slope, weight of their robot and the amount of torque needed to propel their robots up the 'mountains.'
"They started off with the basics of learning how to program, and that in itself is very complex and can be challenging," said Stupfel. "You have to be able to move each different piece of the robot."
Heather Strickland, GEMS student, participated in last year's GEMS program, which encompassed a lot of learning about the human body. This year piqued her interested because of the robotics, and she said she couldn't wait to participate.
"Last year I participated and I enjoyed it a lot, so I thought to myself that I wanted to try something different because I've never done anything with robotics before," she said. "Since I've never done anything like this before, I'm trying to better understand it and it's slowly all coming together for me.
"We've learned how to get these robots to climb these steep hills and make them go faster or slower through the input or output," she explained. "It's a lot of fun, but you have to learn a lot first and break it down step-by-step."
Stupfel said one of the reasons the students are learning about robotics is because the use of robotics is becoming more common in many professions.
"We now use robots a lot to rescue people, send supplies and even (explore) different planets," she said. "They even had the opportunity to travel to the far side of the moon and see how that was done.
"They also learned about how the Army uses (unmanned aerial systems) and different equipment that utilizes robotics (to complete the mission)," she continued, adding that the children also learned about mechanics that were used in medieval times in vehicles, such as catapults.
Although during this particular part of the GEMS program has taught students about robotics, the entire program encompasses a wide array of different subject matter to expand the mind of children and expose them to different ways of learning.
"GEMS is an extracurricular science, technology engineering and math education program designed to help promote students' development and interest in STEM subjects," said Loraine St. Onge, GEMS program coordinator. "The goal is to show them that science and math are fun."
Because of education cutbacks, many schools do not have the funds available to do these types of experiments, said Stupfel, so GEMS is an avenue where children can take what they learned during the school year and apply it.
"And it gives them goals of what they want to be when they grow up," she said.