Teacher Josh Nichols is corralling a group of fifth-grade students into a classroom where there are PVC pipe, five-gallon buckets and ropes piled on tables, all arranged around two large cow troughs full of water. It's a makeshift laboratory, where the kids from this Stockbridge, Michigan elementary school make robots that function underwater.
The students are getting their remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROVs, ready for a Saturday trip to Albion, Michigan, a town about 35 miles away. "The ROVs will travel in the buckets," Nichols reminds them. "We need every piece."
Nichols has been planning what some of the kids call a "geekend," for several months. He and Albion teacher Jason Raddatz met and connected over the ways they try to provide high-quality STEM (science, technology, education and math) education on a shoestring budget.
They also want to combat the geographic, and in many ways demographic, isolation of the two rural mid-Michigan schools.
"A student could stay in a school system like this, and if they aren't involved in sports, they could go for six, eight, nine years without really leaving the town and having interaction with other students from other schools," Nichols explains.