Rocky River Middle School Students Learn About Stem Careers

Rocky River Middle School students gather around Catherine Kehl in an experimental neurobiology lab.

Rocky River Middle School math, science and technology teachers led 26 students on a field trip to Case Western Reserve University to learn about STEM careers and research.

Math teacher Don MacDonald, seventh-grade science teacher Chandra Juhasz and technology teacher Matt England selected 26 middle school students out of more than 50 who applied for the trip through essays to writing prompts. Students had to choose from one of several prompts, including:

  • Will we ever have flying cars?
  • You just discovered a new species. Describe what it is and why it hasn’t been discovered before now.
  • Who knows you better: Google or your next door neighbor?
  • Invent a sport that is played with jet packs.
  • Describe in detail the ultimate tree house.
  • Is life better with a computer?
  • We can now connect whenever and wherever. Is that a good thing?
  • You just invented a robot mermaid. Write the instruction manual.
  • What makes humans different than other animals?

Students toured the Biologically-Inspired Robotics Laboratory of Dr. Kathryn Daltorio, an assistant professor in the Case School of Engineering Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and a friend of MacDonald’s who presented about her work at the middle school last year.

Dr. Daltorio’s robotics research is inspired by animal behaviors that exceed current robot capabilities. She and her students build a range of robotic prototypes that use fabrics, mechanical linkages, adhesives, servomotors and shape-memory alloy actuators, various sensors and cameras, soft and hard polymers, and modular 3D printed parts to explore new designs and control strategies.

“She came and brought a variety of animals and robots from her lab,” MacDonald said. “It was such a huge success we decided that it would be even better to visit her lab to see more of her work and what else she’s involved with at Case Western.”

Dr. Daltorio also led students on a tour of the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think

located in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Think
provides a space for anyone to tinker and creatively invent. It is the largest open-access innovation center at any university in the world.

Students also toured the Virtual Worlds (Gaming and Simulation) Laboratory with Dr. Michael Fu, a research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and an experimental neurobiology lab with Catherine Kehl, a doctoral student in the Department of Biology.

“Students were able to touch and handle different robots, play a variety of video games designed by Case students – including a virtual reality simulation – and feed a giant sea slug as they learned about how these are used to study neurons in the brain,” MacDonald said. “They also got the chance to use a pizza ATM for lunch.”

MacDonald said the goal of the Nov. 21 trip was to expose students to a variety of STEM careers in robotics, computer science and biology. He said they are hoping to turn it into an annual field trip for students interested in STEM fields.

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