Southington students embrace grant-funded robotics program

Southington students embrace grant-funded robotics program


SOUTHINGTON — After nine months of planning, building, and programming their autonomous robot made out of Legos, 10 fifth-grade students at Thalberg School will have the chance to test the creation at their first competition today in Berlin.

Twenty-three teams from across the state are competing at McGee Middle School for a FIRST Lego League competition hosted by the Berlin robotics team. This is the first time a group of elementary school students from Southington will compete.

Students have been involved in the robotics club, led by fifth-grade teacher Chanel Curtin, since they were in fourth grade. For the past few weeks the students have been meeting nearly every day after school from 3:30 to 5 p.m. to work on the robot, named Walle.

The team was formed with the help of a $1,370 grant from the Southington Education Foundation that provided students with materials to design, build, and test the robot.

The robot moves around on two wheels and is small enough to easily pick up with one hand. In the center is what is called a “brick,” which handles all the programming.

Students use computer software called Mindstorm EV3 to give the robot directions on where to drive in order to complete a task. Coordinates are entered into the computer and the information is sent to the robot. If the coordinates are off, the robot won’t complete its mission.

“It’s very difficult,” Chanel said. “We’ve come a long way.”

On Thursday the students were testing the robot on tasks that it will have to complete at the competition Saturday. One mission included having the robot turn a dial on the table and another was getting the robot to shoot a plastic ball into a net on the table.

As fifth-grader Avery Latham entered coordinates into the computer, other students watched and learned as the robot performed.

“We’re doing everything together and trying our best,” he said. “We’ve come a long way and we’ve had fun.”

There are two parts to the competition. Students will have to complete as many challenges as they can in two-and-a-half minutes. The more difficult a challenge, the more points the team accrues.

“They are trying to rack up as many points as possible,” Curtin said.

Then students have to give a presentation in front of the judges. Students will talk about how they would teach and mentor fourth-graders interested in the program. They created a website, tutorial videos, and a poster.

“We hope our robot does well,” said Ethan Solury, a fifth-grader on the team.

Curtin’s hope is to continue the program next year and beyond.

“We’ve been here every night until 5 p.m. and worked on it in lunch and recess,” Curtin said. “And they want to be here.” (203) 317-2212 Twitter: @FollowingFarrah

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