SMS robotics team attends STEM Institute

Student-built robots rolled down the fashion runway, after being programmed, assembled and dressed by two teams of girls from Sweetwater, Texas, who attended Preston STEM Institute, a unique summer program for middle school students at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado. Working in teams of two, Abby Lynch, Abby Garcia, Christa Martin and Annaliese Espinoza, designed, built, programed and controlled robots using the Lego NXT system during Rambunctious Robotics, one of 30 classes Preston STEM Institute offered from June 6-17. The girls are part of a team of 12 middle school students who traveled 14 hours by bus to join 300 girls and boys in grades 6 to 9, who spent part of their summer learning about science, technology, engineering or math in 30 fun, but unorthodox, classes. “This was an amazing opportunity for our students,” said Shana Hrbacek, Sweetwater Middle School science teacher and robotics coach. “This was our first year with a robotics team, and our students got to work with experienced staff and met a select and diverse group of students.”Annaliese Espinoza agreed. “I think this robotics class took us a long way,” Annaliese said. “It showed us how to problem solve and deal with challenges.”To begin, all robotics students learned about the fundamentals of building with LEGOS and the basics of programming using LEGO Mindstorms software, which enabled students to build and program robots to do specific tasks.Working in teams of two, the girls designed, built, tested and revised their robots to prepare them to travel around a curved runway, turning, stopping and spinning for spectators. The boys worked as individuals, built and programed robots capable of performing specific tasks, although there was no fashion runway involved.“The hardest thing is getting the robot to do exactly what you want it to do,” said Ethan Whittenburg, whose class is joined by Daniel Peña, Adrian Ortega, Marc Butler, Corbin Bradley, Tristen Adams and Dylan Jimenez. Although their trip to Fort Collins was largely paid for by a grant from Ludlum Measurements, a manufacturer of radiation meters and detectors headquartered in Sweetwater, students had to jump through a few hoops in order to qualify to go. Each student had to be recommended by their science teacher, receive a positive evaluation by all seven of their teachers and write a two-page essay about their skills, interests and hobbies, along with a summary of what they could personally contribute to the Institute.“I like to build things,” Abby Garcia said. “This was really fun.”