Lake Norman & Mooresville

Students test out of math, delve into robotics

Often, it is the highest-achieving students who get overlooked over in classrooms.

That’s the view of Sabrina Walters, the talent development teacher at Huntersville Elementary, who has forged a solution to ensure this doesn’t happen.

“We are doing some innovative work at Huntersville Elementary … by allowing (students) to (test) out of units of study and replace those units with opportunities for critical and creative problem-based learning opportunities,” Walters said.

Students who show mastery of the content on a pre-test get to participate in special enrichment activities. Building off last year’s inaugural Rockin’ Robotics competition, Huntersville Elementary students will go up against dozens of other area students in an effort that emphasizes teamwork and problem-solving skills using science and technology.

“They will learn how to communicate and collaborate with their peers, and they will learn how to shape their futures to become creators, not just consumers,” Walters said.

Huntersville Elementary was awarded more than $5,000 in grants to begin its robotics program, during which students will learn how to build and program Lego Mindstorms robots.

Students are tasked with creating something with commercial value. It can be something new, or they can choose to improve on something that already exists.

The classes haven’t committed to a specific project yet, but ideas range from lofty (creating a skateboard that teaches people how to learn) to fun (a remote-controlled car) to practical and educational. The competition will be held May 30.

“We challenge all our students, including these top performers, by offering varied opportunities for enrichment from computer coding to problem-solving to creative writing to robotics,” Walters said.

Last year, six teams of roughly 10 students each participated. Walters, who was teaching at River Oaks Academy at the time, and her class took home second place by creating an electric guitar. The winners from Barnette Elementary made an automatic dog-feeder.

So far, students have learned how to write computer code and recently participated in PTA-sponsored contest.

Colin Edelman said the classes have taught him about teamwork and how to solve problems creatively.

“We do a unit pre-test, and if we score 93 or higher, we get to come to this class,” he said. “Our weakness right now is probably that we don’t really work together that well yet, but our strength eventually will be working as a team because that’s how we’ll end up winning.”

His idea is to build a replica of the Statue of Liberty that could move around, lift up its torch and include some facts about New York and how the statue came to America.

“You could ask questions to it and it’d be sort of like Siri on (an iPhone),” he said.

He rates the class a nine out of 10 because it’s interesting and challenging.

Maureen Moore is the communications manager for EnergyUnited, which recently awarded Huntersville Elementary a grant worth more than $1,500.

She oversees the company’s Bright Ideas Grant Program, which is part of the statewide initiative.

“EnergyUnited is giving nearly $40,000 in funding this year to 27 teachers across nine counties,” Moore said. “This is the NC Bright Ideas Program’s 20 year anniversary. … It’s an outstanding way for teachers in grades K-12 to secure funding for projects that they might otherwise not be able to provide for their students.”

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