The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — A student-made drone sits in the middle of a work station in Bart Cerra’s classroom at the high school.

It’s only a matter of time, the students say, before it’s ready for a its first test flight.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting into a computer-science program in college like I am,” said senior Tim Zhou, who will be attending the University of Rhode Island next fall. “More and more careers are geared toward technology. So learning how to build robots will help give you experience.”

This year, students in various courses at Westerly High have received more hands-on learning. A $6,300 grant has been used to elevate robotics, computer repair and computer basics classes by putting technology directly into students’ hands.

“It was huge,” Susan Wood, the department head for technology and business, said. “It’s what we needed to get kids to actively use it.”

The Westerly Education Endowment Fund, or WEEF, awarded the grant at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Wood said it was used to purchase 40 Arduino boards, 20 Raspberry Pi and four drone kits.

Arduino boards are open-source prototyping platforms based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs — light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message — and turn them into an output — activating a motor, turning on an LED or publishing something online.

Rasberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card-sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.

“Having classes like these that are hands-on aligns with career opportunities,” Cerra said. “There are so many different careers in robotics that kids never think of.”

WEEF officials are hoping more teachers and community members who work with the district’s students think more like Wood and Cerra.

The nonprofit is now accepting grant applications for the 2016-17 school year and is giving special consideration to grant requests aligned with “Innovative Instruction.”

According to its press release, WEEF wants educators to explore innovate instructional ideas to “promote student growth, foster and inspire student confidence, and facilitate opportunities to make connections across the curriculum.”

“Grant proposals should be aligned with current curriculum, but should take an innovative approach to the delivery of instruction,” the press release reads. “Grant proposals should take into account the many different learning styles of students in the classroom.”

For example, Wood said, she’s hoping officials with Westerly Middle’s robotics program apply for a grant for more technology so it’s more aligned with the high school’s program.

“It would make the transition from middle to high school smoother,” she said.

Westerly High’s robotics class is among the best — its robot won the state championship this year, and it came in second place in the SkillsUSA competition.

“We were able to go more in-depth in this class,” senior Jordan Turano, who is taking robotics, said. “I like the creativity. You have the opportunity to come up with an idea and make it happen.”


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