Henry Streets, 8, and Hala Khogali, 7, of the team “Pink Broncos,” discuss their robotics drawings during the VEX IQ Robotics Tournament Jan. 26 at Peck Elementary School.

Henry Streets, 8, and Hala Khogali, 7, of the team “Pink Broncos,” discuss their robotics drawings during the VEX IQ Robotics Tournament Jan. 26 at Peck Elementary School.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


Flexing their robotics muscles

Local students participate in STEM program

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published February 1, 2019

 The “Thunder Chickens” team — Riley Sauger, 13, and Max Pagel, 14 — competes against the “Taco Unicorns” — Zirrea Brown and Rachael Wilie, both 10 — during the robotics tournament.

The “Thunder Chickens” team — Riley Sauger, 13, and Max Pagel, 14 — competes against the “Taco Unicorns” — Zirrea Brown and Rachael Wilie, both 10 — during the robotics tournament.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

WARREN — Peck Elementary School fifth-grader Amaan Ahmed aspires to become a physicist.

He is getting plenty of practice as a member of the school’s VEX robotics team, which meets for 90 minutes twice a week after school. There are 25 fourth- and fifth-graders in the after-school program.

With guidance from Peck teachers Margie Wemyss, Yvonne Beauchaine and Jamie Watterson, Ahmed is among 25 students learning about robotics, engineering, mathematics and more in the after-school program. Peck is part of Center Line Public Schools.

“It’s a really good experience for you,” Ahmed said. “My favorite thing is to be with my friends and just build and get educated on engineering. We have to know the person and work together as a team. The closer you are to your teammates, you can depend on them.”

Broken down into six teams, the Peck students build robots and learn how to drive and maneuver them. Each team creates a robot from a VEX kit, which looks similar to Legos. The kits contain gears, speakers, sensors, motors, wires, bricks and a controller.

In December, the students participated in a robotics competition at the Nissan Technical Center of North America in Farmington Hills. On Jan. 26, Peck Elementary School held its second annual VEX IQ Robotics Tournament at the school and competed with students from Technology First Elementary, Utica Community Schools, Notre Dame Marist Academy, Charlotte Middle School, Hill Elementary School and the RoboNismo team.

The competition was under the umbrella of the Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation. Based in Greenville, Texas, the foundation’s mission is to increase student interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, by offering students hands-on robotics engineering programs. REC also offers several different competitions to students.

During the daylong VEX IQ Robotics Tournament, which was set up in the gymnasium, the robotics teams competed against each other while showing their skills and knowledge on a 4-foot-by-8-foot rectangular field. The object of the challenge was to attain the highest score by stacking hubs in building zones, removing bonus hubs from the hanging structure, and by parking or hanging on the hanging bar. If something did not work correctly, the students made modifications and tried again. Each challenge was timed.

Peck fourth-grade students and teammates Safa Ashraf and Sara White said the VEX kits came with instructions to help them build their robot.

“You have to drive the robot and learn how to control it,” Ashraf said. “Sometimes you have to solve problems. I like working with Sara. It’s a lot of fun.”

“I like driving and building,” White said. “When you make a mistake, (Ms.) Watterson makes suggestions for us to fix it.”

“You know it’s not going to work sometimes,” Ashraf said. “You keep it in your head.”

Both students liked having the other schools come in for the tournament.

“You can interact with other people,” White said.

Fourth-grader James Ohngren was a member of Peck’s Flaming Phoenixes team.

“It’s just really fun to have the competition at our own school,” he said, adding that he also enjoyed the event in December. “I know how it rolls. We’ve already done one.”

However, when a problem arises, Ohngren said, “You work with your team. You strategize with them. You go in the hall and practice.”

It’s a rewarding experience for Wemyss, Beauchaine and Watterson to watch their students grow with the program.

“It’s just their excitement. They learn enthusiasm for engineering, problem solving, team-work and learn from each other,” Beauchaine said. “Parents love it because their kids are involved. It’s their future.”

Many outside donors have helped fund the program at Peck. For more information on the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, visit www.roboticseducation.org.