ROCK SPRINGS– The Black Butte High School (BBHS) robotics team and the Desert View Elementary robotics program partnered up last Saturday, March 7, to engage students in computer science activities with their second annual Robo Expo.
The BBHS Bionic Bears Robotic team put on an exhibition of the competition robot they built and programmed, while the Desert View students showed off their own robots. There were also activities for kids and families to enjoy and learn the basics of computer science and robotics.
Desert View and BBHS follow the FIRST® Inspires program, which aims to inspire youth to be involved and innovative in the fields science and technology by engaging them in age appropriate science, engineering, and technology programs.
The kindergarten through third grade students make up the WeDo team, which is a science and technology program aimed at this specific age group. The fourth through eighth graders make up the EV3 team, which is a bit more advanced. The high school students make up the First Tech team, in which they design, build, and program a competition robot.
The WeDo team focuses on building robots out of Legos and programming them to address a real world problem they identified and researched.
The EV3 team built different robots within the landscape of a city. Through trial and error, the kids had to program the robots to climb bridges, operate swings and cranes, and more.
“They’re operating with obstacles on the table,” Jolene Levenson, Desert View EV3 and WeDo coach said. “These kids go above and beyond the time we have available for our robotics class. They come in during recess and after school.”
With the amount of time the younger students have, or lack thereof, they do not have the time to compete. Therefore Levenson said she uses the class to teach them the program and pique their interest in robotics in hope that they will stick with it throughout their education.
Robotics can become frustrating, as it is all based around trial and error, but Levenson it can be very rewarding once they start programming robots and working around obstacles.
“They fail and fail again, but that’s the name of the game,” Levenson said.
Sharon Seaton, BBHS robotics coach, said her team has been working for five months on their competition robot.
This year’s robotics competition required the students to build and program a robot that could pick up blocks and stack them, Manuel Diaz, BBHS lead programmer said.
Unfortunately, the team did not get to compete at the state level this year due to road closures. On their way to Casper for the state competition, they got to Rawlins before they had to turn back.
Seaton said the Robo Expo allows the community to see what BBHS and Desert View are doing in the field of computer science, as well as allows the students to show off their hard work. However, she said it also shows the younger students what kinds of cool things they can do in robotics if they keep with the program through high school.
Not only does the FIRST® Inspires program teach students about STEM, computer science, robotics, problem solving skills, team building, and more, but it also opens the doors for more opportunities for the students. Diaz initially thought he wanted to be a civil engineer when he start school at BBHS, however, he discovered his potential in the field of computer science through the school’s robotics team.
“I’m just going to brag on Manuel (Diaz) for a moment, because he’s so humble,” Seaton said. “He earned a full ride to Rice University and he’ll be majoring in mathematics and computer science. He’s also graduating with his associate’s degree along with his high school diploma. Those are the kinds of things FIRST® can help do for students.”
There were plenty of computer science activities for kids to enjoy at the expo.
Seaton said the computer science programs can be expensive to fund because of the complexity of the robotics and electronics. However, she said it is well worth it because of the doors it can open for students. She said it is about $4,000 to $5,000 to support the team each year. Currently, Sweetwater County School District #1 and Sweetwater BOCES funds the program.
The Wyoming Legislature has signed a bill saying that by 2022, computer science standards will be implemented into the school curriculum across the state. Levenson said the program Desert View and BBHS are following right now have put them ahead of the game.
However, Seaton would like to see programs like hers and Levenson’s implemented in all schools throughout the district.
If young kids are interested in getting involved in the FIRST® Inspires robotics program, their parents or guardians can contact Sharon Seaton at Black Butte, 307-352-3290. Additionally, if any individuals or businesses would be interesting in sponsoring the program, they can contact Seaton at the same number.