Robotics Program Teaches More Than Technical Skills
Posted on 12/21/2017
Students compete in roboticsGirls collaborate with robotics
When Royerton Elementary students competed in their first robotics competition in mid-December, coach Ryan Parrott noticed how quickly the parents took interest in the action on the floor.
"At first, the parents were checked out, just thinking this was another school event.  They were on their phones, not paying that much attention to what was going on," he said.
But within minutes, as cheers and excitement began to build from the gymnasium floor at East Jay Middle School, the parents became as hooked as their children already were by the new robotics program.
"The parents quickly came around," Parrott said with a chuckle. "They were standing up and pointing and theorizing about what was going on and what the teams should do."
      About 30 boys and girls are involved in the robotics program at Royerton under the direction of four coaches:  fourth-grade teacher Parrott, kindergarten teacher Amber Huber, third-grade teacher Julia Sanchez, and physical education teacher Doug Fant.
The students are divided into three teams: Diamondbacks, Yellow Jackets, and Blue Thunder.  Each team has one robot.
Most of the students are in fourth or fifth grade, although there are some third-graders and second-graders involved, also. They train each Monday from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. after school, with optional additional training two others day per week.
    The program's primary goal is to expose children to STEM -- the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
In addition to those important subjects, robotics also helps teach teamwork, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, sportsmanship, creativity, and time management.  
Parrott noted that youth athletics programs often teach similar lessons. This is a chance for boys and girls -- some of whom might not be in athletics -- to benefit, also.
"We learn through challenge. I like the competition," Parrott said. "At the competitions, I've seen a lot of kids grow together through positive peer pressure."
The program can help young girls develop interest in skills in STEM subjects.
"There sometimes can be a self-esteem issue with girls at this age and a little older as far as math and science," Parrott said. "The girls can gain confidence through robotics."
Fifth-grader Marcus Bright attended a one-day robotics camp last summer and is enjoying being a part of the Royerton program.
"I like the engineering part," said Marcus, who added that one day he might want to study aeronautical engineering.  "I like building things, and you get freedom to build what you want."
Fourth-grader Noah Parrott has a different favorite part of robotics.
"Driving is my favorite, 100 percent," Noah said. "I love driving! I practice it all the time."
Students use controllers to drive their robots on a small grid, where they accumulate points by quickly and accurately maneuvering to targets and accomplishing tasks.
  Another fifth-grader, Patrick Ginder, said robotics is fun.
"I thought it would be interesting to make robots and take them to competitions and see what others are doing," he said.
There were 23 teams at the East Jay competition. Royerton placed third in the Driving / Programming Challenge. 
A team from Albany Elementary placed first in Design, and a combined team of Royerton and Albany students scored 31 points for third place in the overall standings.
Eight students at Albany Elementary are participating in robotics this year as the Wildcats also begin the exciting program.
Students especially enjoy the competitions.
"There were a lot of teams with better robots than us. They had more parts," said Royerton fourth-grader Logan Thomas.
As a result, some of the team members returned to school and started making adjustments to their three robots to improve for future competitions.
  "Our team has made a lot of changes," Marcus Bright said. "We started with a claw design and now we've gone to more of a flip design."
  Making adjustments such as these require the students to collaborate and compromise.
Last year, a few Royerton students experimented with robotics by using Legos and a Lego kit. But now the VEX Robotics program features a VEX kit and is partially funded for this school year by a grant.  The students also have sold shirts and have received support from the school corporation and donors.
The students will compete on Jan. 27 at Frankton/Lapel elementary and on Feb. 3 at Blackford.  

Students learn coding for robotics
Boy reacts with happiness
Robot at work
   Close-up of controller Boy puts robot on grid
Girls receive coaching