This Monday was pajama day for second graders at Eagle Academy Public Charter School, a charter school in Congress Heights with students in pre-K through third grade. But it was also—for select students chosen by performance on tests and class—the SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Demonstration and Showcase. Students, some in their red shirt uniforms, some in onesies and superhero pajamas, gathered at the school’s pool to compete with robots they built themselves from scratch.
Eagle is unique in having a pool, Joe Smith, CEO and co-founder of Eagle Academy told me before the students came down—but also in their elementary school STEM program, which offers engineering education from preschool. SeaPerch began in late winter, as a partnership with the Navy to create ROVs from scratch. The program is “really stimulating some of our kids to think about technology and engineering as a possible career,” Smith said. The earlier students learn about these sorts of careers and have hands on experience with them, he explained, the sooner they might consider pursuing them.
The hands on opportunities of SeaPerch mean the school can “let kids be kids,” Smith said—learning, while still having a good time. Courtney Brown, the school’s Kindergarten through third grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics through the Arts) specialist teacher noted the program was particularly important in allowing her students to “experience what their peers are doing across the river.” Students can “see their learning in action,” applying principles they learned in school and gain a “strong foundation in terms of problem solving.”
Students used remote controls to maneuver their colorfully taped robots around the pool. The Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) themselves were built by students with pipes and motors, and required them to measure and engineer the machines. The program is meant to fulfill SeaPerch’s model of “Teach,” “Build” and “Become” and to help students gain a sense of “awe and wonderment” through a creative education. Brown recently had a child, but returned for the program to watch her students compete. At the end, she awarded each of them a certificate, complete with applause and a photograph with Smith.