White Rock Elementary Students Study Robotics
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.”
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.