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Students test underwater robots from pool deck
On Tuesday morning, students from Mountain View Middle School gathered around the edges of the pool of the Bremerton YMCA. They weren’t getting ready to swim, but rather test motorized projects known as ROVs — remote operating vehicles.
“I didn’t know anything about soldering or cutting wire, but after this project I know how to do all that stuff,” said Divinity Dodge, an eighth-grade-student.
Around 50 students took their ROVs to the waters for testing. The students are part of Bobbie Busch’s advanced class which uses Project Lead the Way (PLTW) as part of the school’s STEM curriculum focused on science and mathematics.
Since October, the eighth graders have been working on their model ROVs to get their projects just right. Tuesday was the first time they could test their design to see if it would work properly, Busch said.
“They have had to learn to solder, cut PVC pipe, follow wiring diagrams for switches and get their boats to neutral buoyancy,” Busch said.
The students were required to design their own models as well.
Corinne Beach, an engineer at PSNS, provided support during the project to guide students and help with troubleshooting. Beach also brought Navy divers with her to assist the students if their models got tangled or stuck in the pool.
“This is an effort to get students interested in math and science,” she said. “You see the lightbulbs go on. That’s our biggest reward. For all of us here and the excitement for what they’re doing.”
Beach said the work the students are doing easily translates into real-life careers, which makes what they’re doing much more relevant. Navigating the ROVs in the water is similar to the machines marine biologists use during research, she said. It is also frequently used by divers to recover equipment and other miscellaneous items underwater.
For the pool exercise, students were required to make sure the model — made mostly of PVC piping and wiring could rove along the bottom of the pool. The pool was set up to mimic the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and students were requested to pick up items from the bottom of the pool. PVC piping designed as an “oil rig” had openings that needed to be capped by the ROVs.
If the ROV failed at a task on the checklist, student groups were required to go back to the drawing board and troubleshoot. For some groups that included adjusting pieces on the ROV at makeshift labs set up with soldering irons and other pieces.
A few parents sat on the sidelines watching their students operating their machines.
“It’s really a neat opportunity to have the Navy involved in some capacity here,” said James Lassiter, a parent.
Lassiter and his wife, Brenna Herrmann-Lassiter, were both equally impressed by what their son was working on at the eighth-grade level.
“It’s not a toy. It’s a real-working device that they had to design,” he said. “My son loves it. He keeps telling me how he’s going to UW to go to the engineering school.”
Other parents are finding their teens are more useful around the house when it comes to mechanical skills they’ve picked up in Busch’s class.
“My son is able to fix small appliances around the house now,” said Karla Moore. “The sky’s the limit.”
Aside from learning unique possible future job skills, the class project is also a good way for students to learn to work together while doing something outside the norm, Busch said.
“It is a really fun day as the kids get to see what their hard work will do,” she said. “They feel successful.”