With the whirring of gears, a small robotic machine makes its way around an obstacle course, completing complex tasks along the way. Many adults wouldn’t have the know-how to design or program these machines, however, seventh and eighth graders from Shenandoah Valley Adventist Elementary (New Market, Va.) have qualified for nationals in robotics seven out of eight years, including 2015 where they placed third overall and are already preparing for a new year of competition.
“We take this very seriously,” said Gordon Miller, teacher. “It involves real life skills and is preparing students for the future on a lot of levels. They need to learn to work together as a team for five months, think outside the box and solve problems.”
Miller first heard about the robotics program in 2001, but put it on the back shelf until 2007. “I didn’t know anything about it, but thought we’d just figure it out through trial and error.” The school purchased a software packet and Miller and the students began learning together, with the help of retired engineer Bill Dodge.
Each year, a new course is developed by the robotics league and sent out to participating schools. Students then begin testing different ideas to find the most efficient design for their robot and best programing solutions. Additionally, each year, participants engage in a research project that coincides with the theme.
Students admit that it’s hard work, but say that they enjoy the challenge. “I would love to see this become part of the curriculum in our schools,” said Miller. “There are so many advantages to engaging students in this type of work.”
Picture Caption: Students who competed in the 2015 national competition in San Francisco stand at the Golden Gate Bridge with their coach. (Right to left) Joseph Lim, Kelvin Feitosa, Sierra Anderson, Gabby Patrick, Kiera Griffin, Katie Seeders, Brendan Genus, Danny Palacios and coach Gordon Miller.