White Rock Ele­men­tary Stu­dents Study Ro­bot­ics

McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Rachel Dick­er­son

White Rock Ele­men­tary School has a ro­bot­ics club that has rapidly out­grown its meet­ing space.

Fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Joyce Pacheco started the club the first week of Septem­ber, open­ing it up to sec­ond- through eighth­grades. The club now has a wait­ing list.

“I taught ro­bot­ics in sixth grade but wanted to open it up to more kids,” Pacheco said. “We’re plan­ning on do­ing this all year and go­ing to a com­pe­ti­tion. We’re do­ing fundrais­ers be­cause it’s not cheap to buy kits.”

She ex­plained the younger stu­dents use a mod­i­fied Lego kit to build their ro­bots.

“They’re kind of lim­ited, but it gives them a great in­tro­duc­tion,” she said.

The older stu­dents use Vex ro­bot­ics kits. Each kit costs $350. A par­ent wrote a grant to Wal-mart for $1,000 for three kits, and the club also sold can­dles to raise funds for kits, Pacheco said.

“You can use a com­puter pro­gram and pro­gram these so they’re au­ton­o­mous. There’s pul­leys and lifts and claws. We’re hop­ing to go to a com­pe­ti­tion. There’s one fairly nearby in Jan­uary. We’re try­ing to reg­is­ter teams with Vex to be able to go to a com­pe­ti­tion,” she said.

The ro­bots can pick up blocks, stack blocks, go up and down a ramp haul­ing a load and per­form a

va­ri­ety of other tasks.

Pacheco said there is a yearly chal­lenge that Vex puts on called Ring­mas­ter. Par­tic­i­pants have to buy a $100 kit and they have to build a ro­bot that can meet cer­tain chal­lenges within a cer­tain time.

Fifth-grader Brady Bog­art said of a ro­bot, “Once you pro­gram it, you have a lit­tle re­mote that you can con­trol it. You can move the arm. If you have a crane, you can pick up some­thing.”

Fifth-grader Hannah Cot­ton said she was first ex­posed to ro­bot­ics through the school’s gifted pro­gram last year.

“I thought it was pretty cool be­cause I like do­ing dif­fer­ent things that in­volve con­trol­ling and pro­gram­ming dif­fer­ent things,” she said.

Fifth-grader Lil­lian Hei­thaus said she likes the ro­bot­ics club “be­cause my best friend Hannah is in it and be­cause I get to hang out with Ms. Pacheco and be­cause I re­ally want to be an engi­neer when I grow up.”

Pacheco said, for com­pe­ti­tions, the ro­bots not only have to be able to be re­mote-con­trolled, they have to be able to run au­tonomously. Au­ton­o­mous means some­one has down­loaded a pro­gram to the ro­bot’s brain. He or she hits a but­ton and the ro­bot per­forms a whole se­ries of tasks.

The ro­bot­ics club has 50 to 60 stu­dents, but about 50 more want to join. The school sim­ply does not have the space to ac­com­mo­date all of them, Pacheco said.

“We usu­ally take up the en­tire li­brary af­ter school. They have to have good be­hav­ior and a good at­ti­tude,” she said.

Tina Castle­man helps Pacheco lead the ro­bot­ics club.

“I en­joy it,” she said. “I think it’s teach­ing the kids a lot of cre­ativ­ity. It teaches them to work to­gether. They’re re­ally co­he­sive with their teams.”

RACHEL DICK­ER­SON/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

Lil­lian Hei­thaus (left) con­trols a ro­bot, while Brady Bog­art and Hannah Cot­ton look on. The three are fifth­graders at White Rock Ele­men­tary School, where they are mem­bers of the ro­bot­ics club.

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