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Students create robots in innovative programming class
Chestatee High programming students watch Wednesday afternoon as a robot successfully travels across the classroom floor after being programmed by students to read light and dark reflections on the floor during class.

Chestatee High School Senior Morgan Ivey bends over what looks like a remote control from the 1980s, intently attaching various parts to it. Every so often, she glances up at the computer screen her classmate is typing away on, putting code in to communicate with what she’s creating.

“This is called ROBOTC, and it’s the software,” Ivey said. “We write the program in it, and then we can download it onto our robot.”

The ultimate goal, she explained, is to have the attached sensor detect an object in front of the robot, and then stop and back up.

Ivey is in Darrell Skogman’s programming class at Chestatee, where they have begun their work on robots.

“What we’re doing is learning code,” Skogman explained about the students learning how to type in commands for computer programming. “(The students are) teaching the robot through programming to do certain tasks.”

While Ivey was trying to get her robot to detect objects in front of it, other students were working on having their robots follow a line of blue tape on the floor.

“They’re really just using these sensors,” Skogman said. “So we’ve got one that does touch, or one that sees how far someone is.”

The robotics, along with the programming lessons, are fairly new to Chestatee High. Skogman said they just began last year with beginning programming and Advanced Placement Computer Science classes. This year, they’ve added an intermediate programming class.

Chestatee is the only Hall County high school with the complete computing pathway under the state’s new directive for students to follow a career pathway during their high school experience. Three Chestatee students will take the pathway completion test this year.

“The AP class is supposed to take a novice programmer and move them on, but it helps out a lot if they’ve had some experience” which the programming class provides, Skogman said.

“I think it really incorporates problem solving and engineering. Coding has become such a big part of really any industry. These kids know how to use Twitter and Facebook ... but they don’t know really how to create anything from their own.

“To be able to have an idea and teach a computer to do that, that’s a hard skill,” he said.

It’s a skill that’s gaining in popularity with students across the state. Nick Scheman is the robotics team sponsor at Chestatee High. The team is in its third year; he said the popularity of robotics has become apparent at the competitions they attend.

“This is really a growing area,” Scheman said. “With the (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiative taking over nationally, a lot of schools are getting funding (and) a lot more students are interested.”

When the club started three years ago, they were able to attend five or six competitions. With more teams signing up, he said they’ll be lucky to get in to two this year.

Practically speaking, Skogman said the programming class, including the work with robotics, provides an invaluable skill in coding that students can take with them to college and beyond.

And, he added, the students get to apply what they’re learning in a hands-on learning environment.

“It’s pretty fun,” Ivey said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I signed up for the class, but the robots have been my favorite part so far.”

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