A $5,000 grant is boosting efforts to pique Friendsville Elementary students’ interest in science, technology engineering and math.

Classrooms that previously had only items such as craft sticks, paper cups and donated Legos now will have robots, drones and kits for solar-, wind- and water-power experiments.

“It’s a game-changer for our students,” said Leona Grubbs, one of Friendsville’s technology teacher leaders, along with Heather Norton.

They applied for the grant and were among 161 schools to split more than $580,000 in funding from the Tennessee Valley Authority, in partnership with its retiree organization, Bicentennial Volunteers Inc., and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

The teachers say STEM activities may generate student interest in future careers with organizations such as TVA and the local Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative.

During Friday’s giant check presentation, students already were using one of the items purchased with the funding, Ozobots.

Norton’s fifth graders showed Grubbs’ kindergarteners how drawing a path with different-colored markers works to program the tiny round robots.

Students discovered on their own that when they turn the robots around so they run over the colors in reverse order, it changes the programming. For example, while traveling in one direction a sequence may make the bot speed go up, and in the opposite direction it slows down.

Friendsville Elementary held its first STEM night in January, and Principal Stan Painter said the response was overwhelming.

This summer, teachers will be transforming part of the school library into a “maker space” to further spark students’ curiosity and creativity.

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