VEX After-school program is robotic

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published November 29, 2019

 Peck Elementary School fifth graders Jayden Spybrok, James Ohngren and Aiden Disabatino sit at a computer following online directions for building their robots.

Peck Elementary School fifth graders Jayden Spybrok, James Ohngren and Aiden Disabatino sit at a computer following online directions for building their robots.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Peck fifth grader  Ashton Ludy is on the  “Creative Bots” robotics team.

Peck fifth grader Ashton Ludy is on the “Creative Bots” robotics team.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WARREN — The Peck Elementary School VEX robotics students are back again for a fifth year.

The students, fourth and fifth graders, have been busy this school year building robots and programming them to get ready for the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation’s VEX IQ Challenge.

The event is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2020, at the Nissan Technical Center of North America in Farmington Hills. The Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, or REC, is open worldwide to students in elementary, middle and high school and those in college.

Peck is part of Center Line Public Schools. Teachers Jaime Watterson, Marjorie Wemyss and Yvonne Beauchaine are the Peck Engineering Leaders advisers. The robotics group was divided into six teams, with three or four students per team.

During the VEX IQ Challenge, the students place their robots on a 4-foot-by-8-foot rectangular field. They work together to score points.

“Each year they have a new task for the competition,” Beauchaine said. “They form alliances. Two robots come together on the field to accomplish the task. They have one minute to complete the task. They have to change drivers at 30 seconds.”

This year, the students will have to maneuver their robots to move cubes to a certain part of the field. From there, they will program the robots to move balls either on top of or inside the cubes to earn points. At the event, teams also compete in the robot skills challenge, where one robot takes the field to score as many points as possible. Beauchaine said about 45 teams from all over the state will be at the January competition.

But before they hit the field, the students have to build their robots from kits and then practice creating various maneuvers so they are ready for the competition. The Peck students have been meeting twice a week after school to practice and prepare. There are six robots for the six teams. Each robot comes in a kit that contains gears, speakers, sensors, motors, wires, bricks and a controller.

“It takes a good six weeks to have a robot built,” Beauchaine said. “We follow a plan and the students make modifications for the tasks they need for the field.”

The VEX competition includes local, regional, state and national qualifying rounds. At competitions, the students earn points to proceed to the next level. The VEX IQ Challenge is a chance for robotics students from Michigan schools to participate in competition using their robots to display their robotics skills. They also meet students from other schools interested in robotics. The students gain a lot of skills from being in the program.

“I want for them to be able to collaborate with other students, solve problems, think outside the box, try different things and not be afraid to fail,” Beauchaine said.

Because the state of Michigan opened up funding for robotics, the Peck robotics program received funding last year and reapplied this year. General Motors, Bosch and a local couple also have sponsored the Peck program. The monetary donations help pay for team T-shirts, robot kits, competition entry fees and more.

Fifth grader Gracelyn White and fourth graders KaVion Hatten, Rafid Ahmed and Kyle Holloway make up the Record Breakers team.

“I like it because you get to work together and try to accomplish a lot of things,” Ahmed said.

“I like to participate because I get to work with different people in a higher grade than me,” Hatten said.

“This is the part that everyone has to figure out. This is so hard,” White said of maneuvering the robot. White also participated in VEX last year. “I got really good friends out of it. I can learn to do something different or build something different. As I get older, I can have many skills, including robots.”

Fifth graders Abbey Kruk, Jaylah Roper, Ava Dooley and Layla Jammeh make up the Robotic Heroes team.

“I enjoy hanging out with my friends,” Dooley said. “It’s a great experience and the possibilities you have making robots.”

“It’s my first year,” Kruk said. “It’s been a good experience from building robots and from building cubes for me on the fields.”

“I like helping on the field,” Roper said. “I also like being in the after-school activity. It gives me new ideas and new interests of what I like.”