For McLane Middle School students, the days of building birdhouses or trinket boxes are gone. Before long, students will be building a robot and programming it to complete a task.
The goal is simple: Make kids familiar with technology and challenge them to think creatively.
Beginning with the 2008-09 school year, McLane will offer school choice options called Tomorrow's Leadership Academy and the Robotics Institute. Although both programs share some curriculum elements, students don't have to be in the Robotics Institute to participate in the Leadership Academy.
What's the difference?
Tomorrow's Leadership Academy will have the new science, technology, engineering and math program called STEM. It offers an updated curriculum with advanced technology for today's global economy. The program will offer honors and Advanced Placement courses.
The Robotics Institute also focuses on STEM. Students will be introduced to electronics, computer science, artificial intelligence and bioengineering to find better ways of living.
Both programs have admission requirements and limited space. In math, students must be in at least the 80th percentile on their Norm-Referenced Test scores and at level three or higher on the FCAT. In reading, a level three or higher on the FCAT is required.
Leadership Academy and the Robotics Institute could give students options besides traditional high school. The program can continue through to area engineering or technology academies or to International Baccalaureate (IB) classes at Hillsborough, King and Robinson high schools.
"We want the United States to take back its leadership in engineering. This program can take us there," said Michael Wilson, robotics instructor at McLane.
McLane will hold a tour of the robotics program and offer more information about the STEM curriculum on April 22 before the third school choice application period in May.
Although new to the school choice program, the Robotics Institute has been an extracurricular activity for years. McLane's team, called the Vibots, was the only Hillsborough public middle school team to enter this year's First Lego League International tournament. They came away from the competition, which emphasizes problem-solving, with an honorable mention after competing against 24 schools.
Jenna Nieves, a seventh-grader and Vibots member, prepares the group's presentations, research and design. "Mr. Wilson gives us a lot of motivation. Sometimes it's totally confusing, but he asks us a lot of questions and that gives us choices and options."
"Students at this age are very capable and exposed to much more," Wilson said. "I call it imagineering. You take what's in your mind, design it and build it."