ROCKINGHAM — A set of siblings sat behind laptops Friday morning at the Falling Creek Recreational Center.
But they weren’t just there surfing the web.
Under the tutelage of Jeff Epps, the four middle schoolers — Elijah and Anna Jasper, Xa’nyah Marly and Angel Combs — designed and printed their own fidget spinners.
“They learn that it’s nothing more than a pentagon and a cylinder,” Epps said of the spinners which have become popular over the past several months. “A pentagon was duplicated two more times. That’s all that is. It’s a basic collection of shapes.”
The other “great thing,” Epps said, is that math is involved.
“These are basic polygons that they have to learn about in math,” he said. “Then we just took the fidget spinner and submerged it in hot water to expand it just enough — because it’s made of plastic — so that the bearing would go in, and now they have their basic fidget spinner.
“We wanted them to understand that, sure you can go buy one, but look how easy it is to make one,” he added.
Epps, who teaches at Richmond Community College, was contracted by the Rockingham Housing Authority last October to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes 1 hour a day, two days a week.
“Giving these kids in this area a different avenue, or a different way of seeing things or things that are popular in bigger areas and bringing something big to a small area, is kind of cultivating the kids to have a bigger vision than what they see every day,” said Teraefean Goodwin, resident opportunity self sufficiency service coordinator for the housing authority. “So that’s a good thing for them to have here.
“I think they enjoy making new things,” she continued. “I’ve enjoyed watching them do it. If it was something I could (have done) myself, a long time ago, I sure would have done it.”
Epps’ students on Friday were using a program called Tinker CAD (computer-aided design), which allows them to “create just about anything.”
After creating the spinners, the students kept tinkering. Angel had also made a key chain with her initials — which took about 26 minutes — while Anna designed an Easter egg with a crown and chicken feet and Elijah made a bunny truck.
Elijah, Anna and Xa’nyah have been in the class since it began and have logged about 60 hours of STEM training. The housing authority will also be sending them to Richmond Community College this summer to participate in its STEM camps — which will give them an extra week of training.
Epps added that they will also be able to compete in this year’s Hackathon and that fidget spinners will be created in the Geospatial Math camp.
“The idea is that STEM is more than just a summer camp,” he said. “It’s continual learning throughout the year,” and “exposing them to as much technology as possible before they graduate…and showing them how the world is nothing more than a collection of shapes.”
By the time they graduate from high school, the students will end up with nearly 300 hours in STEM training before they graduate high school, according to Epps.
“And in this day and age, who would have thought the middle schoolers would be taking CAD?” Epps queried. “Because that is something you wouldn’t learn until college.”
Goodwin said she thinks the classes could spark an interest in the students and give them an idea of what they want to do in the future.
“It can take them a lot further than Richmond County, or maybe even North Carolina,” she said.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.