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 CNS Story:

SCHOOLS-ROBOTS Nov-9-2006 (690 words) With photo. xxxn

Vermont Catholic school students take part in robotics pilot program

By Cori Fugere Urban
Catholic News Service

BARRE, Vt. (CNS) -- John McHugh, a fourth-grader at St. Monica School in Barre, would like to see robots used as police officers.

"They could have rockets on the bottom of their feet and fly around town looking for people who are being attacked by criminals and come down and arrest them," he said. "It'd be a big help."

Classmate Ricky Gariboldi would like to have a robot clean his room and do his homework.

Whatever use robots can be put to, St. Monica's science and computer teacher Pam Nadeau wants her students to learn about them -- and about their design, structure, construction, how gears work, motion, programming, forces and work, machines, team work and problem-solving.

That's why she incorporates robotics into her sixth- through eighth-grade science classes and her fourth- through eighth-grade computer classes. She is also the adviser to the Catholic elementary school's Robotics Club.

This year four new robots were added to the school's previous collection of four, but the new ones are state-of-the-art and part of a Lego education pilot program involving only 55 schools in the continental United States.

Thanks to the Lego Mindstorms Education NXT pilot program, the school got the four robots, each with light, sound, ultrasonic, temperature and touch sensors. St. Monica also received the accompanying computer software and the site license that gives the school permission to use multiple copies of the same program on several computers simultaneously. The whole package -- robots, software and license -- is valued at $1,800, but the school got it for one-third of the cost, and that $600 was donated by Bond Auto Parts.

In exchange for the reduced price, Nadeau and her students will give the company feedback about the product during the pilot program that runs until Dec. 1.

This is the third year that robots have been used at St. Monica: Nadeau used them in her seventh- and eighth-grade science class two years ago and started the Robotics Club last year.

She credits Ronald Lessard, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Norwich University in Northfield, with initiating the program when he brought in equipment and helped her understand how robots work.

"Norwich University has been wonderful, and (Lessard) has been very, very supportive," she said. "If it hadn't been for him, (robotics) wouldn't be here" at St. Monica School.

Now Lessard, a member of St. Monica Parish, brings Norwich University students to the school periodically to help with the robotics. He praised Nadeau for using the robots to enhance science and engineering lessons in the classroom.

"They will work with technology and machines no matter what they choose to do (in life), and this will help them," he said. "They will be able to function a lot better in society."

"It's amazing to see how quickly (the elementary school) students pick things up," said John Walthour, a junior at Norwich University, during a recent visit to the school's Robotics Club.

The children are using robots that look like a motorized Lego toy about the size of a cordless phone. They are not remote-controlled but autonomous robots the students program to work on their own.

"This is fun because we get to program the robots and make them do stuff like go through a maze, go around and around and around and make sounds," fourth-grader John McHugh told The Vermont Catholic Tribune, newspaper of the Diocese of Burlington. "It's just fun."

Lessard said the students who are studying robotics at St. Monica have the potential to go to college, become engineers and use robots to help people.

"Robots can do work that is hazardous or dirty or boring," he said. "They're very good at doing repetitive tasks people don't like to do."

"This is learning in a fun way," said Christie Galfetti, a fourth-grader at St. Monica. "We're learning how to set up systems and follow directions more."

"You get to see if you can master things," said Amanda Merrill, an eighth-grader. "It's interesting to watch and do."


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