Students learn programming and engineering skills at robotics class


The library at Barkely MicroSociety school was abuzz with the sound of whirring robots on Wednesday afternoon as fourth and fifth graders who have been participating for several weeks in an after-school robotics class shared with family and friends the engineering and programming skills they have learned. Led by co-advisors Cara Mancini and Janel Dievendorf, the students have been working in pairs to imagine concepts for robots that can help people. In the class, they learned to build working robots using LEGO Mindstorm kits, which include structural parts, motors and sensors, as well as software which allows the students to program the robots to perform various tasks. Students also used artistic and marketing skills to create displays advertising the various features of their robots.

Nicholas Phelps demonstrated his idea for a robot that would help clean up a room. When he pressed a button on the robot’s central computer or “brick”, the robot came alive and moved forward a ways and then stopped. It then flung a red ball it held in it’s arm backwards into an imaginary wastebasket.

Partners Ashley Shang and Mackenna Colwill created a concept for a robot that would explore and take pictures and video of the surface of Pluto. They both described how keeping the robot’s computer mounted securely was one of their biggest engineering problems. They worked on several different versions of their robot, trying to make it more stable with each new version.

Griffin Steves imagined a robot that could cook food.

“This is just a prototype, it doesn’t actually cook things yet,” he explained. He also added that one limitation of the robot was that it was not waterproof, and therefore could not handle liquids.

Partners Conner Meca and Darius Gainer explained how the robots were programmed using software in the school’s computer lab. The software allows students to visually link together basic instructions such as to move forward or backward, rotate, move the arm, or even speak a phrase. The instructions are then transferred to the robot’s computer via a USB cable. The robot’s computer can operate motors and sensors connected through four different ports mounted on the chassis.

Originally from Fonda, NY, co-advisor Mancini said she first learned about LEGO’s robotics programs while teaching for several years in Hawaii. There she attended a conference at which she learned how to coach teams participating in LEGO League, a nation-wide competition that challenges students to design robots that solve real world problems. Although the class at Barkley is not officially affiliated with the program, Mancini said the skills they learned would prepare students to compete in such an event in the future.

Students participating in the program include Conner Meca, Kira Kiskis, Brayden Mickels, Nicholas Phelps, Zachary Becker, Faith Taft, Aiden Soto, Griffin Steves, Dayton Etherton, Darius Gainer, Mackenna Colwill, Falyn Marcuccio, Ashlee Shang, Felipe Mulero-Diaz, Cody Hamm, Alec Bartone, Tre Ramos, and Andrew Mickel.

Featured photo is of Aiden Soto and Zachary Becker.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.