SeaPerch lets Propel Homestead students get their feet wet in robotics

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 7:18 a.m.

Propel Andrew Street High School students literally are getting their feet wet in robotics in a SeaPerch collaboration with engineers from Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp.'s Bettis Laboratory in West Mifflin.

SeaPerch, an innovative program that has helped more than 50,000 students across the United States learn about underwater robotics, was made available in March to juniors and seniors enrolled in a physics class at the Homestead charter school. Students completed the six-week program on Tuesday with an underwater challenge in the Carnegie Library of Homestead pool.

Students built their vehicles after school with guidance from teachers and Bettis engineers, using a kit that included PVC pipe, sealed batteries, propellers and a pool noodle. Students designed and assembled their vehicles, while Bettis staff advised on principles of circuitry and buoyancy.

“The most memorable moment was putting the robots in the water for the first time and seeing how excited the students were to see them work,” engineer Adam Golubski said. “It was satisfying to see that the hard work that they put into the robots for the past few weeks paid off. They worked without issue for the first time, which showed how much care they put into building their robots.”

Propel science teacher Dana Garver said the project helped students grasp and apply the concepts of physics.

“Student engagement is evident,” she said. “Through what they do, they're demonstrating what they've learned.”

Kristen Golomb, Propel's coordinator of science programming in kindergarten through 12th grade, said science and technology education is more rewarding with inquiry-based design processes. Having the opportunity to work with professional engineers on a real project provides students with a relatable learning experience, she explained.

“It's a connection that enhances what they're learning in the classroom in a real-world application with a Pittsburgh-area partner,” Golomb said.

Propel senior Ally Johnson said talking with Bettis staff helped her learn about the field she hopes to pursue.

“I know I want to go into engineering,” she said. “Talking with engineers was interesting, because it was good to hear their insight on things.”

Students said the SeaPerch project was interesting and more fun than they expected.

Tuesday's competition included a drag race, a challenge to knock rings off an underwater stand and another contest to move rings from one stand to another. With two participating teams, the Sea Terminator beat Master Minds by a 20-second margin in an overall timed score.

Carnegie Library of Homestead director Carol Shrieve was proud to open the library's doors for such an exciting activity.

“We're a community anchor,” she said of the Munhall facility. “This is one way that our services extend beyond the borders of the Steel Valley. Many kids who go to Propel are not from this area, but they attend the Andrew Street school because they like the charter school system.”

Inviting Propel students to the library generates foot traffic in the massive building that not only houses books and computers, but a swimming pool, athletic club and concert hall.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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