Sheldon Students Create Box Counting Program | New

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SHELDON – A trio of students from Sheldon High School have a positive attitude when it comes to using technology to facilitate recycling.

Senior Zac Stellinga, second Jeanetta Budden and freshman Eric Van Maanen used skills learned from Toby Maggert’s introductory computer course to create a program that keeps track of aluminum cans when ‘they slide in front of an infrared sensor.

To make the program work, the students placed the sensors at the end of a wooden chute through which the cans are pushed. The sensors are wired to a small printed circuit board called a Raspberry Pi, which is plugged into the screen of the computer the encoding program is running on.

Each time a tin can passes the sensors, the computer program notes it and tracks how many were pushed through the chute.

Students learned how to configure the Raspberry Pi and sensors from an instruction booklet that came with the devices.

“The book was just how to get the sensors to work and then we used it to functionally create whatever we wanted,” Stellinga said.

Using a computer programming language called Python 3, the students developed the system by which the program counts the number of cans that pass the sensors.

Stellinga said the process involved trial and error as they had to teach the program when to record the movement of a sliding can and when to account for gaps between cans.

The students didn’t just test the program in the classroom – they put it into practice at the Sheldon Redemption Center.

Maggert took his students to the Redemption Center, located at 1313 Second Ave., in early April to show the program to company owner Mike Ney.

“I had spoken to him, he said, ‘There are industrial-level can counters, but they cost thousands of dollars, so something like that was really not in the budget of a small business that counted boxes, ‘”said Maggert.

“As something like that, I’m like, ‘You know what? I know we can take sensors, I know we can write the programs. I think that’s a level my students could achieve. ”

Since Maggert had never used a Raspberry Pi before, he said there was an initial learning curve for him and his students. One of the first problems the group encountered was that one of the sensors was not functioning properly and had to be replaced.

At the redemption center, they placed the sensors on a wooden plank on a conveyor belt divided into five lanes. Each sensor was placed above its own lane, which meant that students could have the program recording boxes for two lanes at a time.

“It was cool,” Van Maanen said of the experience.






Sheldon High School sophomore Jeanetta Budden moves aluminum cans past infrared sensors connected to the Sheldon Redemption Center sorting lane. The sensors pick up when a can is approaching them and keep a count thanks to a computer program.




He and Stellinga said they love computing because of the breadth of the subject matter.

“If you want to create a can counter, you can do it just by writing a few lines. You can really do anything, ”Stellinga said.

He recalls taking a science, technology, engineering, and math class a few years ago and being exposed to computer programming during that class. Stellinga said the field is one he would like to pursue professionally.

Like Maggert – who started teaching in high school when school started – Introductory Computer Science is new to school. He said the course only became available after he was hired, meaning students didn’t have much of a view that it would be offered and only a few signed up.

“These are the ones who heard about it and changed their schedules to make it work,” said Maggert.

The class teaches students the basics of coding and how to operate computers.

Maggert also had students do small classroom programming projects. He spoke about a sample project that involved an online listing of all words in the English language called the corpus.

“They went through it and they looked for how many words have this letter, start with the letter H or have the letter h or have two hs in a row? Or what is the longest word? Maggert said.

He plans to split the computer class into two halves per semester next year. One class will be Intro to Computer Programming and the other will be Intro to Computer Networks. This last course will focus on how computers work, connect to the Internet and other technical aspects.

Maggert would also like his future classes to continue working with the buyback center, with the ultimate goal being to set up an automated can counting system for the company. He also encouraged other businesses in the city to contact him if they had an idea for an IT project his students could tackle.

“I’m always looking for something because I really think kids like hands-on and hands-on projects.”



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