Quaker Valley High School’s revamped robotics curriculum provides more student opportunities

When Matt Dado came to Quaker Valley High School last year he noticed something about his robotics and engineering curriculum.

“I really don’t think anything was broken,” he said. “I would say we had a real solid foundation. The courses really didn’t change (in) the name so far.

“It was just making it relevant. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to make what you’re doing in class relevant. “

Dado teaches 12-week courses in Computer-aided design, engineering design development, robotics and home maintenance and construction. There are about 15 students per class.

“In school, you’re there to learn how to learn,” Dado said. “Out in the real world, you’re finally going to learn the skills that you need to apply.

“In here, you’re getting both. You have a nice ecosystem where if you fail with a problem nobody’s worried about it. We have a lot of failures, and we want to see what you’re doing to make those failures better. “

The former New Castle STEAM teacher and home improvement business owner was able to incorporate some of the skills and programs throughout his career and create new opportunities for youths in Sewickley, Leetsdale and the surrounding areas.

One of those being a partnership with Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy gives students an opportunity to earn certificates for their efforts.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

Dado acquired five new 3D printers for his classes this year.

Students use drafting software such as AutoCAD and Fusion 360 to design 2D and 3D blueprints and other layouts.

Some of the parts that students design are then created by the printers.

They have ranged from K’Nex pieces that are no longer manufactured to help elemental robotics programs, to holders for video game controllers and filament spools.

Senior Charlie Crane was among the students who worked on restoring a broken globe for Karyn Dobda, district director of innovation and strategic initiatives.

“I found the classes to be a lot of fun to come up with in real-world things,” Charlie said. “Do little fix-ups that are very effective and really satisfying to complete because you know you did it all yourself.”

Charlie plans to pursue mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He said the knowledge gained in Dado’s classes will be instrumental to his success.

“It’s all sorts of problem (solving) that could also come up in college or a career that would require designing manufactured products on software like this,” he said. “It’s not too terribly difficult if you pay attention to Mr. Dado. It’s different for everyone, but for me it was really fun. I thought it was very enjoyable to just sketch little things and watch them come to life. “

Freshmen Andrew Vescio and Jonathan Munn are each working on repurposing empty filament spools.

Andrew hopes to use a five-gallon bucket and a pump to help make a water fixture.

“We’re still designing and figuring it out,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. We’re doing some trial-and-error right now. I can create things that I actually enjoy creating. “

Jonathan wants to reconfigure spools in drawers to store other tools.

“It would have been wasteful to just throw them away,” Jonathan said. “It’s a lot of plastic. We’re learning how to use other programs and how 3D printers work.

“I feel like a basic level of engineering skill could be important or useful later in life. As you go along, you could fix something. “

The home maintenance and construction course is a rework of a set design class in which students will build things for the high school musical or play.

Teens still do that kind of work. But they also learn how to use drywall, plywood, build storage facilities, hang picture frames, change light switches and sockets and paint, among other useful skills.

Dado said having the opportunity to learn such labor was a top response in a student survey.

One of the more interesting construction projects this year was the creation of a standing arcade game with joysticks. A TV from Dado’s garage serves as the screen.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter General Chat Chat Lounge

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