An after school robotics club at Oak Mountain Intermediate School is not only getting students interested in robotics at an earlier age, but it has also created mentoring opportunities for middle and high school robotics students who are sharing their knowledge with the younger students.
The OMIS robotics club, which officially kicked off in October, is sponsored by fifth grade teacher, Dana Furman. Robotics were first introduced at OMIS the previous school year when Furman and fellow fifth grade teacher, Wanda McKelvy, each got a VEX IQ robotics Super Kit and integrated them into their classrooms.
“We used them with our respective classes to get a feel for what was involved,” said Furman. “We wanted to determine things such as, how long does it take to assemble a robot? How many can work on one kit at a time? How user-friendly are the instructions versus how knowledgeable did we, as instructors, actually have to be?”
This school year, McKelvy focused her efforts on sponsoring the University of Montevallo Science Festival team, while Furman took over the robotics club. The school expanded the robotics effort by purchasing five more kits and holding tryouts in September for a robotics team.
“The tryouts consisted of building towers with dry spaghetti and mini marshmallows,” said Furman. “The task was legitimate, to see who could build the tallest tower in 15 minutes. But, what I was really watching for was teamwork and perseverance when the first plan didn’t work.”
Furman said of the 28 students that indicated interest in robotics, she opted to find a way for all to be able to participate. She split the students into two groups and began meeting the first semester with the students who showed the most interest and aptitude toward robotics.
Currently she has 14 students who are still actively involved from both groups. Furman said that initially students worked together using the step-by-step pictorial instructions that came with the kits to create a “clawbot”. From this they learned how each piece worked together, and how the brain interacted with the remote control, motors, and sensors.
At the same time the new OMIS robotics club was forming, the OMHS robotics team was looking for a space to be able to work on their BEST Robotics competition robot.
Dr. Pat LeQuier, principal at OMIS, offered the high school team use of one of her school’s portable classrooms. What resulted was a mentoring opportunity utilizing the high school students and their robotics team sponsor, Dr. Donna Strong. The high school students started coming each Thursday afternoon to work with and encourage the intermediate students and Furman.
The high school students helped the younger students set up a robotics course to test their robots. And, they have continued to come work with the intermediate students even though their own competition season has concluded.
Furman said she was also was invited to attend one of the high school competitions at UAB, where she met Oak Mountain Middle School robotics team sponsor, Sherri Whitehead. That has also led to mentoring opportunities with the middle school students also. Recently the OMIS students took a field trip to OMMS to observe Whitehead’s robotics class and to collaborate and scrimmage on the middle school’s regulation playing field.
In late November, Furman looked up VEX IQ-specific competitions for the fifth grade level and discovered the Mountain Brook School District was hosting its first annual Robotics Competition on December 13.
“It only gave us a couple of weeks to prepare for the competition,” said Furman. “We had to design a custom robot to accomplish the task of pushing 3 inch cubes across a goal line with an option to multiply points by stacking them in color-coordinated high-rises within 60 seconds, changing drivers at the 30 second mark.”
Furman said there were also opportunities for autonomous competitions where robots are programmed to work the course without a driver. Teams could also do a research project to explore how engineering can be used to solve challenges and make our world a better place.
Seven of the OMIS took robotics team members attended the competition. They took their best robot to the competition and were the only team out of ten in the competition who attempted the research project.
“By virtue of having made the effort to have any presentation at all, we won the STEM research category, which qualified us for the state championship on March 7 at Jacksonville State University,” Furman said.
For the second semester, the team is making adjustments and improvements to their competition robot, bolstering their research project on interstellar travel, and working toward their goal of also competing in the autonomous category.