NEW ORLEANS – Orleans Parish 4-H club members at Success Preparatory Academy in New Orleans took time away from regular school activities on Oct. 10 to build robots as part of the National Youth Science Day Ecobot Challenge.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students at the school joined with students across the nation to build robots out of toothbrushes to simulate the cleanup of an oil spill.
This is the third year for the project that teaches science, math, and other real-world skills like problem-solving, according to LSU AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator Renee Castro. The 4-H youth development program is delivered locally and operated through the LSU AgCenter.
“The kids are actually getting to be engineers for a day,” Castro said. “Since the kids know that we recently had an oil spill, this shows them that maybe one day there will be a robot that can go in and help us with oil spills.”
Aviyaunce Benjamin, a sixth-grade student, said this was a fun experiment. “I learned that you can take a simple little thing and make something big.”
The robot consisted of the head of a toothbrush with a tiny motor and battery attached. When the two wires from the motor made contact with the battery, it caused the toothbrush to vibrate. The students were given a picture of an oil spill, and they used their imaginations to build borders around the spill. Rice was use to simulate the oil, and their robots cleaned up the spill.
Reynard Stewart, president of his sixth grade 4-H Club, said it was fun working as a group to build something. “I learned that there are many ways that you can make stuff, especially for the environment.”
Casey Versailles, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Orleans Parish, said the project teaches students the importance of science and how to apply it in their everyday lives and also the value of teamwork.
“This school is unique because each class has a college theme with memorabilia for that university, so the kids are encouraged to go to college by learning about the college of their class,” Versailles said.
She said the students even want to go home and continue to work on the project.
“That’s what we want to teach them, to be doers,” she said.
Orleans Parish 4-H agent Veronica Del Bianco said the main key to the project is that the students learn problem-solving.
“They hear a lot about problems here in Orleans Parish, especially that we did recently have an oil spill not too far away,” Del Bianco said.
There’s a lot of teamwork involved in the project, but there is also the hands-on piece that’s important, Del Bianco said.
“I think this school promotes the full development of a student,” she said. “They use an African term in this school. It’s “Umbuntu,” which means I am what I am because of who we all are.”
Del Bianco has 4-H meetings once a month at the school where she spends 45 minutes in five separate classes reaching 120 students.
Erik Kelt, the assistant principal of the school, said 4-H plays a vital role in the school because it enhances the school’s values.
“The 4-H program is very valuable to us, especially through the community outreach,” Kelt said. “We’ve set a goal around community service at our school.”
Last year the school set out to help the homeless as a community service project, and each class did something different, he said.
“Some of the students collected canned food and toiletries, while others assisted at the food bank,” Kelt said. “We collected so many canned foods they had to bring a forklift to collect it.”
Kelt said the school has mainly minority students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, but the school is teaching them that they can be all they want to be.
“We let them know that when they are older there are handouts they could possibly get. But it is instilled in them that when we grow up, we’re the ones who will go to college, and we’re the ones who will serve others and not get served,” Kelt said.
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