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'This is fun': Weymouth students try robotics challenge, with support from Lt. Gov. Polito

WEYMOUTH – Leo Moreira focused on his laptop screen and worked diligently to try to solve a real-world problem: coding an Amazon robot to retrieve and deliver a birthday present on time.

"This is fun, but the timer is frustrating," Leo, 10, said while trying to complete the challenge before the time was up.

On Tuesday, Leo and his fifth grade classmates at Pingree Elementary School did the Amazon Cyber Robotics Challenge, which puts students in a virtual Amazon warehouse to practice coding.

They also got a visit from Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito as part of Massachusetts STEM week, which encourages students to use their skills to create, build, design and solve real-world problems. State Sen. Patrick O'Connor, R-Weymouth, and Mayor Robert Hedlund also attended.

Polito told the students that learning the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math will be important to their futures.

"With how smart you are already, I can't imagine how capable you will be," she said. "This is not happening in every classroom, so we want to see kids in other cities and towns having the same opportunities you have."

Students at schools across Weymouth are spending the week knee-deep in projects packed with lessons that span the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. 

Teri Fleming, the district's STEM director, said middle school students on Tuesday worked with the Massachusetts Army National Guard on a network and cybersecurity-themed escape room, and high school students met with staff from South Shore Health to hear about careers in health care. 

"There is a lot happening in the district all week for STEM week, but, honestly, our schools do a fantastic job of incorporating STEM every day," Fleming said.  

Fleming said the goal is for students to see how many careers include science, technology, engineering and math, and how their interest and curiosity in the subjects will help them in the future.

Fifth grade teacher Christine Marcella said students were excited about the Amazon Cyber Robotics Challenge because they could connect it to their lives.

"They have the connection of when an Amazon package arrives," she said. "I think in everyday life they expect the package to just arrive at their door, but here they see how it got to that point."

Rudy Wilson, 10, watched as the virtual robot on his computer screen moved toward a pair of headphones he was trying to retrieve using coding.

"I've done coding before, but this is really fun," he said.

Polito said Massachusetts has the most innovative economy in the country, and it's important for the state to continue to develop talent in STEM.

"We can't start early enough to build the foundational skills needed for our innovation economy," she said. "We have a wealth of talent that we need to continue to develop. We can't rest on our laurels."


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