By Lori Overmyer
Spring Break officially began for the Horace Mann Elementary students and teachers at 3:45 on Thursday, March 31, but the robotics teams and coaches stayed behind and continued perfecting their robots to be ready for the World Championship in Dallas in May.
With the hallway lined with third, fourth, and fifth graders intently working with tiny parts and large schematics, the lure of vacation was far from anyone’s mind.
Emily Patrick, third grade builder, said her goal for joining the robotics team was simple. “I wanted to learn to build robots.” As she worked, volunteer George Richison checked her robot and discovered it was too wide for competition. Emily immediately began reconfiguring.
Coach Jeanne Paff said, “Part of the training for these players is learning to be flexible. They quickly learn to talk to each other and rework to improve their robots. They must collaborate to be successful.”
Early in the school year, students tryout for the teams. The coaches have developed rubrics to measure how well students work together, follow directions, clean up at the end of a session even if they aren’t quite finished with a project, and encourage others.
“We are looking for students that will work well together and understand we are not building a real-life person or a war bot,” said Paff.
Unlike a Lego project that provides step-by-step directions, students are
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given a set of pieces and a schematic for building their bot. For this year’s competition, they were to build a bot that would gather balls and put them in either a low or high basket, with the high basket earning more points.
“With schematics, we find out if the students can build without directions. This is good because they know their bot inside out. This gives them a better understanding of engineering,” Paff said.
Fifth graders Amy Shultz, Rachel Patrick, and Olivia Jackson have been teammates for three years, and they will compete in Dallas.
“I used to goof around, but now I don’t. I want to be successful with the project,” Amy said.
Rachel is pleased with her improvement in programming. “I’ve improved a lot in developing the controller.”
Olivia added, “I have in my head what I want to do, and I can usually do it.”
For the competition, the students have one minute to program their bot and another minute to drive it.
Running their equipment isn’t the only part of the competition. Judges interview each team.
“The judges ask the students about the building and programming to make sure they have done their own work, but the real benefit is the students learn to speak with confidence to adults,” Paff said.
After the state competition, the teams realized they needed to modify their bots. They wanted to “teach” their bots to fling the balls into the higher basket to earn more points, add an arm to hold more balls, add a “high hang” to the bot which gives more clearance, and increase speed.
“We really can get better,” the fifth-grade team of girls said.
Each of the elementary teams has a coach. Those include Samantha McGuin, Trace Hinesley, Christina Tolin, and Sam Shultz.
“Our community volunteer, George Richison, gives his knowledge and time to the kids. They love and respect him,” Paff said.
The Horace Mann teams, along with all the Huntington Community Schools’ teams, will show off their skill and bots on April 16 in the Huntington North gym. The event will last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The teams will also begin fundraising to support the teams’ trip to Dallas in May. Dan’s Fish Fry will be at Horace Mann on May 3. Some of the proceeds from that will contribute to the trip.