Grant to boost robotics

FAIRMONT – Fairmont Area School Board has accepted a $10,000 grant from 3M. The money will be used to buy robotics kits for eighth-graders.

Algebra teacher Brad Haugen said the kits may be able to help students make the jump from math on a worksheet to math in action.

“That is what kids are missing in algebra,” he said. “It is that cross connection.”

Haugen said the kits will be integrated into curriculum next school year. The kits will be used in the STEM 8 class. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Introducing robotics in eighth grade also will help students prepare for the FIRST Robotics program in which they can compete, in ninth grade.

“We want to get this feeder program as strong as we can,” Haugen said.

3M Ingenuity grants were given to only 34 schools in the nation and six in Minnesota. The program recognizes teacher teams working across grade levels and STEM disciplines to spark student interest and achievement.

The grant is just one of several totaling nearly $35,000 that Fairmont was awarded by 3M in the current school year, said Crystal Hanson, human resources manager at the local plant.

Hanson announced at the meeting that Fairmont is in the final weeks of contention for a grant to take on a pilot program to bring “mechatronics” training to Fairmont. Mechatronics is a new and growing field that integrates electronics, mechanics, pneumatics, hydraulics and computer control systems to create automated manufacturing production systems.

If Fairmont is approved for the program, vocational teacher Bob Bonin and one other teacher would be sent to training on the mechatronics equipment. 3M would then ship the equipment to Fairmont for a module during the school year. 3M mechanics would come to the school and help students learn how to use the equipment.

Bonin said this type of training would help students already competent in hands-on work with parts to take their thinking to the next level.

“A student might say, ‘I have learned how to fix a lawn mower, but here is more than that. Maybe I can be a plant engineer,'” Bonin said.

The students are ready for it too.

“We are ahead of the curve,” he said. “We have students here, but we need to teach them even more.”

Superintendent Joe Brown thanked 3M for its involvement with the school district.

“What needs to be going on in the county is going on right here in Fairmont,” Brown said. “Businesses and corporations are partnering with schools, because we have the same goals.”