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Students Explore Science at Wheeling Jesuit

  ROBERT A. DEFRANK, The Intelligencer
  Monday, May 20, 2019 8:52 AM
  WU News


Elementary students simulated assembling a lunar rover and programmed it on a mission to explore and gather samples on the surface of the moon Saturday.

The students were participants in a Remake Learning Community outreach program at the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University.

Two classrooms were in use, with one group of students mapping out topography and the other group programming and steering a robot.

“They’re creating a topography map, and then they’re going to transfer that knowledge to working on an iPad with the terrain on the moon,” Mel Gribben, flight director, said.

The instructors demonstrated how to take steep or sloping terrain into account when planning their rover’s route.

“When you see this terrain on your iPad, you’ll know ‘that’s the side of a crater’ or ‘that’s going up a mountain,’” Gribben said.

“We’re focused on STEM activities,” Jessica Zeigler, flight director, said. “We do missions to space. The students actually work through a mission as if they were the astronaut or in mission control for a two-hour mission. Right now we’re doing a return to the moon.”

She added that staff have been holding STEM challenges for children in community spaces such as libraries, museums and schools. Jackie Shia, commander of the Challenger staff, said the learning center received a grant from Remake Learning to have these robotics programs. Remake Learning has promoted outreach days in Pittsburgh, Morganstown and the northern Wheeling area from this past Monday to Saturday. She said the Challenger staff have so far worked with about 200 children within a two-hour radius of Wheeling Jesuit University through the year.

“They’ve very interested in the activity,” Gribben said. “They seem to enjoy it.”

In one of the classrooms, a Girl Guard troop of about seven with the North Boroughs and Pittsburgh Temple Salvation Army.

“We’ve been learning about space. We wanted to bring them here,” Lt. Nikita Poloso of the Salvation Army said, adding that they are ages 11 to 14.

“They’ve been working on badges. This is our space badge that they’re working on now. How better to learn than to have a hands-on experience?”Poloso said. “They were very excited. They couldn’t wait to come.”

“It’s kind of like a coding class,” Lily Armstrong of Pittsburgh said, adding that the procedure was challenging, but it took about 10 minutes to program the path. “I have definitely learned here that whenever I think the direction’s going correct, on the map I try to go certain degrees, but then it went the other way. … Once, I couldn’t go up a mountain because I didn’t have the right wheels for it, so I had to try it again.”

The other group was made up of children from individual families who signed up for the event. They sent a small robot on missions to collect samples on a map of the moon.

“There was a landing team, a water team, and a greenhouse team, a mineral team,” Reece Boyd, 11, from Triadelphia said. “You had to do it slowly, or else it would spin out of control, and then it would go where you don’t want it to go, then you have to keep doing it over and over again.”

“Our son Tommy (Wensyel), he wants to actually work here, in the NASA program. When he gets out of high school, he wants to go to college here so he can also teach here,” Kari Wensyel said. “They’ve learned a lot here. This is our third program we’ve done, and they look forward to coming back.”