STEM learning, by land or by sea

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 6, 2016

ST. CLAIR SHORES — In their third year of existence, the South Lake High School Mighty CavBots are taking to the seas — or at least a pool.

The robotics club has earned a spot to compete in the sixth National SeaPerch Challenge, to be held May 20-21 on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. 

The team earned the spot with a first-place finish in the open class challenge course, second-place finishes in the open class challenge and obstacle courses, and third place in the open class poster board presentation during the Navy Outreach Detroit Regional SeaPerch Competition April 16 at Western High School in Detroit.

SeaPerch is an underwater remote-operated vehicle, or ROV, competition sponsored by the U.S. Navy to encourage middle and high school students to keep learning in the areas of science, engineering and math. 

“The Navy is supporting this robotics program because it helps highlight the technology. ... It’s the high-tech portion. We’re trying to get students interested in the science, the math, the engineering that really is kind of the core of what the Navy does,” said Loren Partlo, a civilian educational specialist for the U.S. Navy who operates out of Navy Recruiting District Michigan. 

The military is the forerunner for all sorts of technology, and the program has applications in different areas, from missile systems to innovations in medicine. By getting students interested in SeaPerch vehicles, the Navy hopes to spark their interest in future careers, Partlo said. 

“It’s an underwater remote vehicle, and it has some of the basic science pieces that we’re interested in getting them exposed to,” he said. 

More than 150 teams from across the country will compete in poster competitions and in-pool technical events with their SeaPerch ROVs at the national competition. The students have to learn buoyancy and how to modify the SeaPerch ROV to do various tasks, like swimming in circles and picking up balls and putting them in containers. 

“It just fits together so well that the Navy wants to support the school systems in there as we all want to foster development, growth, with advancements for our children,” he said.

This is CavBots captain Anna Jackson’s second year on the team at South Lake High School.

“I think I was very pleased with how we did,” said the sophomore. “We had got the pool for many weeks and we were able to do a lot of practice.”

She said they were able to test the balance of the ROVs in a small tub in their classroom, but being able to practice in the school’s pool and learn how to go through the obstacle course definitely helped with the team’s success.

The Mighty CavBots also participate in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics and VEX Robotics competitions, but Jackson said they had more time to practice for the SeaPerch competition. 

“That’s one thing that contributed to doing well in SeaPerch,” she said. “We’re all very excited.”

CavBots coach James Ryan said that when the school started the robotics team, the plan was always to branch out into different areas of robotics from FIRST. The first year the school was just trying to get a robot to compete, and last year they concentrated on FIRST and finished in the middle of the state rankings. 

But by expanding the programs the team is competing in, he has helped keep students’ interest in the program. 

“The FIRST season only lasts for about eight weeks,” he said. “What do I do with the team for the rest of the year?”

The 15-member club brought five ROVs to the April SeaPerch competition.

“I was ecstatically proud of the team this year. They did fantastic,” Ryan said. 

Now, he added, “We’re going to compete and see if we can become best in the nation this year.”

The Mighty CavBots team raises all of its own money for the program and is looking for donations to help finance the trip. To help, contact Jim Ryan at (586) 945-0798 or at jryan@solake.org.