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JHS Manufacturing Technology Class Using Robotic Hand

JHS Manufacturing Technology students, Jacob Green and Mia Raj, work with a NeuroMaker HAND, a STEM kit that allows students to build and program a robotic hand. Submitted Photo

Jamestown High School students in Scott VanStee’s Manufacturing Technology class are getting the opportunity to not only explore what it means to have experience in digital literacy and project-based learning, but how design thinking works and what part empathy plays in product design.

Students are working with the NeuroMaker HAND, a STEM kit that allows students to build and program a robotic hand. The NeuroMaker HAND comes with hardware, software, professional development, a capstone project and curriculum, which can easily complement an existing lesson plan or be used on its own.

“We started out by doing a rock, paper, scissors contest and from there I made the students do as much sign language with the hand as they could, which we learned was not easy in some cases because you have to turn your hand or make a more complex movement,” VanStee said. “The kids were very engaged in the building and the activities that we worked on and I had a number of students who liked robotic programming through mlink.”

By exploring different avenues geared toward engaging students in STEM-related topics, VanStee is able to help his students to better figure out what they want to do, but also, and more importantly, not do in their future careers.

“I like to tell them that this is just one particular thing that we used in a classroom but the sky’s the limit on what we can do with the hand. It’s definitely something that a student could get their head wrapped around in a classroom, but I like to tell them this is just their jumping-off point,” he said.

VanStee’s student numbers have grown for next semester and he will be able to offer two sections of his technology class. The students normally go on field trips and tour manufacturing facilities within their community to show them the different types of careers available within any one facility. Due to the pandemic, the in-person tours have gone virtual but the hope is to return to in-person visits as soon as it is safe to do so. Programs such as the robotic hand encourage students to take their skills to the next level and experience firsthand how important communication; teamwork, problem solving, leadership and self-management are in real-world scenarios. VanStee is contributing to this by teaching these key skills in his classroom and adds,

“I want to show my students that the jobs out there aren’t just going to be you taking a widget and moving it from one place to another, it’s more than that these days. I was intrigued by the assembly aspect of the NeuroMaker HAND because I knew I could connect it to ladder logic. You have to do things in order, and it allows you to talk about why that’s important and that it’s not just putting something together but needing to understand the ‘why.’ Students that have popped into my room, always see the hand on my desk and ask about it. They ask me what course I teach that uses the hand. These are not current students, so it has created some great interest in my class,” VanStee said.

With the support of the district, VanStee has been able to gain access to several new pieces of technology, which allow him to have a more engaging conversation around, what some might consider, advanced topics. Through products that have an industry connection, like the NeuroMaker HAND, VanStee is able to involve his students in hands-on, real-world, learning. VanStee knows the importance of teaching through hands-on learning, while sharing his own industry experience.

“I was in business for 22 years before I came into teaching. I had a furniture factory in Jamestown, it was in my family, and I was a fourth generation, so I come out of the manufacturing end of things. We were certainly starting to get a little more technologically advanced but with our whole industry moving mostly overseas, it forced us to close. This is now my 20th year teaching and I love the challenge and I love bringing in new technology to the classroom,” he said.

While industry continues evolving towards a more technologically advanced future, STEM jobs continue growing faster than the talent that is available to fill those jobs due to STEM courses not being offered to all students. However, JPS’ goal is to create access so that all students have the opportunity to gain these important skills.

Joshua Varela, NeuroMaker’s Associate Director of Partnerships for the Northeast, is quick to point out that this isn’t just a STEM kit, but one built around project-based learning, collaboration, and intended to help the STEM landscape be more accessible, diverse and equitable.

“We at NeuroMaker believe there is so much untapped innovation throughout the country. To cultivate this innovation, we need to ensure STEM is accessible and is not segmented. STEM skills are the life skills of the 21st century and equity is non-negotiable,” Varela said.

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