South Orangetown Central School District

Principles of Engineering students are learning about software engineering by programming a Vex tank-like robot to dance to a one-minute audio clip as part of a “machine control” unit. Yesterday, four sophomores discussed the experience.

“We’re using Vex Code VR for block coding,” explained Dylan, as he worked on finalizing his code. Next, students will move on to write text code in Robot C to load onto the actual robot in the classroom.

While Dylan has experience with writing code, thanks to the computer science electives he’s taken so far, it’s been a brand-new challenge for Aaron. “I like digital design–designing and building things on computers,” he said, adding that he looks forward to taking the Project Lead the Way Aerospace Engineering course next year.

Across the room, Elaine was surprised to discover the strength of her own computational thinking skills. “The block coding was easy for me, but I also like the freedom of this project. We choose the song and decide for ourselves what the robot does,” she noted. “I like the step-by-step focus, too. You physically see when you’ve done something wrong and can go in and fix it.”

Principles of Engineering is just one of many Project Lead the Way engineering courses offered by the District starting in middle school. Through their coursework, students are introduced to various engineering fields and learn to use professional software, such as Autodesk Inventor. “Gaining this exposure helps students decide whether they want to pursue a career in an engineering field before they get to college,” noted TZHS Technology/Engineering team leader and teacher Nicholas Desantis.

“This is a fun project, but coding isn’t my thing,” admitted Cate, who is in her third year of engineering coursework. “While I really enjoy designing and building physical objects, I’ve realized that engineering is not a career path I’m interested in. Knowing so early helps because I have time to consider other electives to explore.”

TZHS student programming virtual robot