Seventh- and eighth-graders from Reynoldsburg's STEM Middle School at Baldwin Road joined millions of students from across the country Oct. 10 to try to solve a robotics challenge as part of the fifth annual 4-H National Youth Science Day.
Their assignment: Use only paper cups and straws to engineer an efficient method to keep their "eco-bots," made from the head of a toothbrush, a watch battery and a vibrating motor, on task.
The robots are meant to clean toxic spills too dangerous for human cleanup crews to handle.
But these eco-bots are not connected to a remote control and can move only forward and backward. The assignment for 100 Reynoldsburg middle-school students last week was to figure out how to direct the movements so their robots could clean up as much of a simulated beach spill as possible.
Ohio State University's 4-H center served as the local site for the event.
"They'll be able to engage at a thorough and complete level as a student at Ohio State," said Bob Horton, an OSU professor who specializes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. He designed this year's national challenge.
The Reynoldsburg students also shared their ideas and results with OSU students -- an additional perk, said Scott Bennett, principal of the STEM middle school.
"We've really been talking to students about college and career readiness," he said. "It (was) a chance to ... find out what colleges like and what they need to do to go to college."
The event complements what students are learning in class, he said. For example, seventh-graders studied ocean currents and the global climate, while eighth-graders worked on a physical-science lesson involving motors and magnets.
Bennett said he was worried that he wouldn't have enough students sign up for the challenge. There was no school on Wednesday because of teacher training. More than 200 volunteered to attend.
"A turnout like this shows the excitement that these kids have," he said.