Aug. 30 2018 12:00 AM

Their teacher believes in “learning by doing.”

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There may be some budding irrigation contractors coming up in Alabama. A story published in the Hartselle Enquirer says that a group of kids enrolled in preengineering and robotics classes at a junior high in Hartselle designed a drip irrigation system. And, it’s got a practical application; it’s to be installed in one of the school’s gardens.

Caroline Weems, the kids’ teacher at Hartselle Junior High School, believes in using real-world experiences in her classes. Instead of just learning about the engineering process, the students practice it. “They have lived it and done it,” she says. “They have done the engineering process and can see why it is helpful,”

First, the students calculated the amount of water a traditional sprinkler distributes to the garden. Then they spoke with someone at Hartselle Utilities about the rate the school is charged for the water and figured out its total cost.

The group then began researching different types of irrigation systems, working up a presentation to be shown to Tina Kimbrell, the assistant principal. She selected the drip system, and the students set to work building it.

Weems says her students have been engaged in the project, which they began working on the third day of school. “I think it was exciting,” she says. “They had spent so much time on it I was afraid they might lose interest. The fact that they actually got to build it was a huge motivator for them.”

The irrigation system is just one of many projects undertaken by Weem’s pupils. Through these assignments, the teacher hopes to show her students how they can use the problem-solving skills they’ve honed in class in their personal lives as well as in a future career.

“It’s a real world,” says Weems. “Whether you are an engineer or just a regular person coming up with ideas and trying them, the ideas don’t always work,” she said. “But your mistakes are just as important as your successes.”

Although engineering and robotics are in the realm of the sciences, Weems says creativity plays an important role, too. Students are presented with problems they try to solve, not unlike what an irrigation contractor goes through when troubleshooting a sprinkler system.

“I try to get my students to think of many different ways to do things,” Weems said. “Creativity is not just about art, although that is a huge part of what we do. It’s about creative problem solving and arriving at good decisions.”