Students take on robotic challenge

Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
Seventh graders Ethan Goodstein, Chili Sidoti, Sarah Podlasiak and Cole Keny watch as a robot competes in the first annual Octagon Challenge at Bexley Junior High. The seventh and eighth grade technology classes programmed the robots to race to an opening in an octagonal enclosure Nov. 20. Parents Dave Banks and Suzanne Kondracke watch in the background.

Chris Melville’s extended technology students quietly approached the arena and prepared for competition.

Each wanted his or her team’s robot to complete the challenge the fastest, thereby winning the first annual Bexley Middle School Octagon Challenge.

Many parents came to watch, and nobody wanted to do poorly in front of friends, but most importantly, Melville promised the winner would receive extra credit.

Each team placed its robot near a wall of the octagon. Then Melville timed how long it took the robot to escape through the open side of the table. The lowest average time won the competition.

Melville said the students followed a "detailed set of instructions" to build the robot. The only creative choice for the kids was what type of sensor did they want for their robot.

For the challenge, most groups chose the optical sensor that enabled the robot to recognize a wall three inches before it would have rolled into it. However, a few groups opted for the touch sensor that recognized a wall only after contact.

Programming the robots involved math that was "a lot to ask," especially from the seventh graders, Melville said, "but they learned really fast – it was amazing how quickly. They were awesome."

Seventh grader Christian Santiago said it was "kinda fun to do technology with robots."

Santiago’s team "Restart" placed second. The students named their team "Restart" because "we were almost finished when we realized we were missing one little piece and had to start over," Santiago said.

This is the first year Melville has taught technology. Last year he taught math.
When he entered his new post he inherited the robots from his predecessor whom had used school funds to purchase them, but "didn’t have a chance to use them much."

Over the summer he taught himself how they worked so that he could incorporate them into his class.

Melville said the students "found out stuff I didn’t know, but that’s typical when you teach middle school."

The school purchased 12 robots at a cost of $350 each.

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