Soon, students at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School will reap more than knowledge.

The school will be unveiling its new FarmBot — a farming machine that automatically plants and cultivates crops, and is programmed using open source software.

The district purchased the bot with grant funding through Title VI, which provides funds for rural and low-income schools, according to Jeremy Rathbun, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Students in Bill Parkman’s woods class, Ron Fabianski’s metals class and Paul Lucas’ robotics team have been working to assemble and program the FarmBot, Rathbun said, bringing together several different disciplines to learn from the machine.

“We decided that what it can do is educational, but how it does it is even more educational,” he said. “So, we’re building it from the ground up and they’re working their way through it and they’re learning how it all goes together and how it all works.”

And once the bot is up and running, it will be used for experiments in the school’s science program. Students might learn about sustainable farming practices and the life cycle of plants, experiment with different soil and light sources, or even grow produce for the school cafeteria, Rathbun said.

The school has also purchased a collection of heavy-duty bins that separate the robot’s farming bed into sections, which means students’ experiments can be rotated in and out of the FarmBot as needed.

It will be prominently displayed in the school’s Discovery Center across from the gymnasium, which will allow the community to see the FarmBot at work, Rathbun said.

“People are going to walk by and see a robot arm scanning over and planting or picking up weeds or watering with no one around. We think that’s going to be really cool,” Rathbun said. “We think that’s going to be really engaging to kids and probably spark some interest in different types of projects that we haven’t done before.”

The center was originally designed as a lab space for students to complete hands-on projects and experiments, Rathbun said, and the hope is that the machine will be the centerpiece of a new and improved version of that space.

Rathbun said that with funds from another federal grant, the school also hopes to purchase a laser cutter, a saltwater touch tank, and forensic lights and microscopes that would all be housed in the center alongside the FarmBot.

With the FarmBot and the Discovery Center, the idea is to create connections between the subjects students are learning and hands-on technology, Rathbun said.

And the ways that classes can collaborate across disciplines with the FarmBot and technology like it are endless, Rathbun said — but the first step is getting that technology into students’ hands.

“These are things that teachers have to see it first; they have to know that it’s real before they can plan for it,” Rathbun said. “And that’s the stage that we’re in — where we’re making it real.”

Nelson Elementary School was one of 86 schools in New Hampshire to receive a 2018 Blue Ribbon Award from New Hampshire Partners in Education. The honor recognizes the efforts of school volunteers and successful school volunteer programs in the Granite State.

Principal Ron Upton, kindergarten teacher Cindy Benner and school board Chairwoman Kelly French accepted the award at a ceremony in Concord in October.

“I am pleased that the NH Partners in Education committee chose Nelson Elementary School to receive this recognition,” Upton said. “The communities of Nelson and Sullivan support our school in so many ways on a regular basis. This particular award is a tribute to the volunteers and their many hours of service. Their work is appreciated and is making our school better each day!”

The South Meadow School Robotics Team received an award for project presentation at the N.H. FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament in Windham on Dec. 2.

Using science, technology, engineering and math concepts, the students worked together to design, build and program a LEGO Mindstorms Robot. The team was judged for its research, core values and robot design, and its robot completed three rounds of tasks on the table-top playing field.

The members of the Peterborough middle school’s team are Owen Beaulieu, Wyatt Beaulieu, Maya Bennett, Sophia Clayton, Katherine Craig, Connor Stajduhar and Bryson Voice. Forty-eight teams competed at the tournament.

What’s going on in your school? Education reporter Meg McIntyre can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or mmcintyre@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MMcIntyreKS.