Students see the future through robots

Robotics programs drive interest and teach critical thinking

Brittany Lopez held the remote with care, keeping her eyes on the small robot in front of her.

She moved her fingers gingerly to maneuver the machine — which looked more like a two-wheel, upright tractor than the humanoid version people often think of — over to a blue Lego piece. Soon the robot’s mechanical arm had picked up the Lego, which was supposed to represent a miniature solar panel, and placed it on top of a small structure.

“When you’re a kid and growing up, you play with Legos,” said Brittany, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Vista View Middle School in Fountain Valley. “This is basically like advanced Legos. It’s fun to play with the robots.”

Brittany and classmate Alyssa Rubio — who make up a team called Swag Money Demolishers — created their robot using a small computer, wiring and metal box as part of a STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — class and then competed against other students from the Ocean View School District in a robotics competition April 14 at Vista View.

“At first, it was complicated, with the computers and stuff, but then you get the hang of it,” Brittany said. “It’s really fun once you actually learn what to do.”

Dozens of students from Vista View and Mesa View middle schools and fourth- and fifth-graders from Westmont and Lake View elementary schools, in teams of two or three, worked over the school year to create their robots, said Sandi Lewis, a STEM teacher with the district who acted as mentor to the kids throughout the project.

Having students create and work with robots offers them a range of skills, she said, noting that the district once participated in a regional tournament through NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena but that the program ended a few years ago.

“I think it really teaches them to think critically,” she said. “It gives them programming and computer science skills, as well as engineering skills, because they have to think of the task involved and design the robot to complete that task. A huge element of it is collaboration and how well they can work together.”

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