Ramstein middle schoolers show off winning robotics program
By BRIAN FERGUSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 10, 2019
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Autonomous robots built by seventh and eighth graders, some of whom have won Europewide acclaim in competitions, completed tabletop “space missions” in front of hundreds of spectators during an exhibition at Ramstein Middle School.
Over the current school year, students from 26 RMS teams built Lego robots to solve problems related to this year’s First Lego League theme, “Space — Into the Orbit.”
Each team devised a theoretical problem related to humans in space and then created a system to fix that problem. They demonstrated the results at an exhibit after school on Thursday.
“My main goal for our students is for them to learn how to think critically while using the engineering design process,” said Tynisa Young, robotics teacher at RMS. “When each student enters my class, the expectation is that they will be challenged, but will have fun while learning.”
The robotics program is part of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, initiative that the Department of Defense Education Activity added to its curriculum a few years ago.
Young grew more interested in STEM when she attended the Research Science Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also took part in STEM training for teachers at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“These opportunities ignited my passion in STEM and allowed me to transfer what I learned … to my classroom,” Young said.
Servicemembers from the 435th Contingency Response Group at Ramstein are also helping the robotics students in the classroom by showing them how technology is used in the 21st century.
The 435th, a unit of about 750 personnel, provides a rapidly deployable force designed to assess and open air bases, enabling the standup of combat operations anywhere in the Europe, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
“It’s a tough, tough, job with some long hours,” 435th CRG commander Col. Jason Terry said of the work his airmen do in deterring Russia and helping defend Europe. “When they come back from an event like this [exhibition], their morale is high and they are super-motivated. It brings meaning back into all the work that goes into it.”
RMS Principal Dan Petrictz said he understands that several of his students will someday serve in the military. Having a close community partnership with the military, he said, helps teachers understand what skills the kids will need as adults.
Petrictz and Terry both signed documents signifying the partnership between the 435th CRG and the school during the exhibition.
“Every airman today is involved in engineering, science and technology,” Terry said. “We have 20 judges [here today] and they have helped tutor [students] throughout the project.”
After the research projects were judged by 435th CRG servicemembers, top teams from the DODEA Europe First Lego League competition demonstrated their robots.
In March, teams competed in the league competition, which included 174 teams from 36 schools in seven European countries.
Team REV3NGERS — composed of four eight graders, Alec Eschenlauer, Daniel Olson, Austin O’Brien and Sean Lester — won 1st place in sectionals and in the championships by completing the most table missions in two and a half minutes.
Earlier in the school year, RMS also competed in the First Lego League Rockenhausen tournament as the only American team and placed fourth out of 14 teams.
“I am proud of what these middle school students have accomplished,” Young said. “Our students represent future innovators and I am thankful to have the support of my administration and military community to provide our students with access to STEM education that is comparable to their stateside peers.”