PVRS students showcase robotic fish feeders in first ever Pioneer Engineering Expo

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering professors Jim Lagrant and Stephen de Bruyn Kops serve as guest judges alongside Pioneer Valley Regional School Principal Kevin Burke during the first-ever Engineering Expo Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School sophomore Isaac Damon shows his conveyer belt fish feeder design to University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering professors Jim Lagrant and Stephen de Bruyn Kops, who served as guest judges alongside Pioneer Principal Kevin Burke during the school’s first-ever Engineering Expo. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School juniors Henry Curtis, right, and Lucas Kelton, left, showcase their robotic fish feeders last week. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School junior Ben Taylor, pictured, said students used computer software to program the motors for their automatic fish feeders. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School Principal Kevin Burke speaks with junior Troy Emond as he judges the students’ autom designs. Burke served as a guest judge alongside University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering professors Jim Lagrant and Stephen de Bruyn Kops. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School junior Troy Emond used a pie wheel design for his automatic fish feeder. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School junior Troy Emond used a pie wheel design for his automatic fish feeder. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Juniors Lucas Kelton, who’s feeder is pictured, and another classmate, Manny Little, not pictured, used a wooden dowel with a pipe cleaner spiraled around it to act as an auger and push a desired amount of food out of the tube dispenser. Staff Photo / ZACK DeLUCA

  • Some automatic fish feeder designs featured conveyer belt style fish feeders, others used an auger style dispensary and others created a pie wheel design to dispense a certain amount of food at a time. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School sophomore Isaac Damon and junior Ben Taylor both used a conveyer belt design to create their automatic fish feeders. Damon’s design, pictured, attached small buckets loaded with fish food to the belt, and the motor is set to move the belt just enough to drop one bucket’s worth of flakes off the end and into the tank every 24 hours. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2020 4:48:08 PM
Modified: 1/19/2020 4:47:09 PM

NORTHFIELD — After more than a month of design, programming and prototype construction, Pioneer Valley Regional School’s engineering design students displayed their robotic fish feeders during the first-ever Engineering Expo last week.

The Engineering Expo showcased the work for other students and guest judges. This was the inaugural class of students for engineering design, after John Heffernan, a teacher in Pioneer’s Innovation Center and a former computer engineer, founded the class this year.

“I am proud of the way they combined what they have learned and I am impressed with their investment in the prototypes,” Heffernan said.

The students combined LEGO Education robotics equipment with other materials, such as wood or 3-D printed parts, to make an automatic fish feeder. The LEGO robotics gear was acquired with funding from the school budget and through rural aid.

Some fish feeder designs featured conveyer belt-style fish feeders, others used an auger-style dispensary and others created a pie wheel design to dispense a certain amount of food at a time. Juniors Henry Curtis and Lucas Kelton said they were required to use the LEGO engineering kit, with the computerized motor, but had freedom in their design.

“It was pretty creative,” Curtis said. “We could use any material to create the design we wanted.”

Kelton and classmate Manny Little both used the design of a wooden dowel with a pipe cleaner spiraled around it to act as an auger. It pushed a desired amount of food out of the tube dispenser when activated.

“It worked better than I imagined,” Little said.

Junior Ben Taylor said students used computer software to program the motors, setting the motor to turn on at a desired rate, from every five seconds to 24 hours, and to adjust how long it would run to dispense different serving sizes. The designs were required to work for up to seven days’ worth of unattended feeding.

Sophomore Isaac Damon and Junior Ben Taylor both used a conveyer belt design. Damon’s design attached small buckets loaded with fish food to the belt, and the motor is set to move the belt just enough to drop one bucket’s worth of flakes off the end and into the tank every 24 hours.

Kelton and fellow junior Troy Emond used a pie wheel design for their feeders. After designing a prototype with cardboard, Emond 3-D printed his own wheel design with 16 “slices” to hold up to 16 days’ worth of fish food.

While most of the students in the class are juniors, many still don’t know what college majors or careers they are interested in. The Innovation Center and engineering class provide hands-on experience to engage students’ curiosity and help them develop the skills for a possible future in engineering.

“This was something unfamiliar; it’s not commonly taught in high schools, so I thought I’d give it a try,” Taylor said. “Mr. Heffernan does his best to make sure we understand things and keeps challenging us.”

Heffernan was recently a judge for the University of Massachusetts Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department’s senior design project competition, and invited professors Jim Lagrant and Stephen de Bruyn Kops to be the Engineering Expo’s guest judges alongside Pioneer Principal Kevin Burke.

“They were pretty impressive,” de Bruyn Kops said of the students’ projects. “Their intuition is good.”

The judging was based on the design functionality and aesthetics, as well as students’ understanding of the basic engineering components and clarity in their explanation of the product. Burke, who saw the projects in beginning phases, said he was impressed with how students solved early design issues.

“They can take what they learned and use it to get a job, and problem-solve on the job,” Burke said. “(Engineering) teaches that while it’s important to have a plan, you need to be flexible and willing to adjust that plan.”

De Bruyn Kops added that the students’ foundation of engineering intuition is greatly beneficial if they choose to take higher education classes or go into engineering careers. He and Lagrant agreed it’s “crucial” to start teaching these concepts in high school.

“We used to take stuff apart and put it back together,” de Bruyn Kops said. “Now this is how you can get that engineering intuition.”

In Pioneer’s engineering classes for middle schoolers, Heffernan said students are preparing to make dragster robotic cars and are designing their own video games using Scratch programming language.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




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