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2018-10-31 / Front Page

Whiz Kids Poised For National Robotic Competition

STEM Focused Club Codes, Programs, Builds
By Lillian Browne


Lillian Browne/The Reporter Downsville Central School Robotics Team members: Jason Gustafsson, Nathaniel Burnham, Jalessa LaFever, Tristian Reed, Olivia Brunner, Kaden Cicio, Shantel Knorr, Alexa Vazquez Pastrana, Elaina Bull and Gabe Cazzolla. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Downsville Central School Robotics Team members: Jason Gustafsson, Nathaniel Burnham, Jalessa LaFever, Tristian Reed, Olivia Brunner, Kaden Cicio, Shantel Knorr, Alexa Vazquez Pastrana, Elaina Bull and Gabe Cazzolla. DOWNSVILLE - A team of middle- and high-school Downsville Central School students that have given up their scheduled lunch time or advisor class (study hall) to build and program robots, are headed to a national robotics competition in New Mexico in May 2019.

The students will showcase and compete with a variety of robots they both built and programmed in the annual RoboRave North

American competition in the

Swept-Away, Jousting and Follow the Line competitions.

The students are not strangers to competition. Last year several team members had first-place finishes. It not about winning - though that part is fun, said seventh grade student Elaina Bull, who has built an “Etch-a- Sketch” type robot, which is currently awaiting programming.

Veteran robotics builder Jason Gustafsson, an eighth grade student, will compete in the Swept Away class this year but built a remote control robot that contained a fork-lift last year.

A critical robot-building skill, Gustafsson said, is paying attention. “You have to make sure you don’t put a piece in the wrong place,” he said.

Seventh grade student Shantel Knorr is building a tank-styled robot. The selection method for her project was through trial and error. “I picked his one,” she said laughing at herself, “after six tries - because it looked easy.”

Math skills are used in every part of robot building, the club’s co-advisor Melissa Frisbee said.

Neither robot building or science is “nerdy,” ninth grade student Tristian Reed wants people to know. “You get to use a lot of creativity. You have to follow the guideline, but you also get to express yourself creatively,” Reed said.

Reed and Gabe Cazzolla, also a ninth grade student, designed an “arm” robot. They have to be innovative in their construction, Cazolla said, because they “missed” a segment of the instructions in building the robot’s left side. Because the robot would not work properly, the pair rebuilt the entire left side of the program by mimicking what they had done on the right side of their project. No big deal.

“Improvision is required in problem solving,” Reed explained.

Problem solving is the biggest aspect of the STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, math) program, Frisbee added. “All the way around - in building and in programming. If you make a mistake,” she said, “You have to trouble shoot it.” Those are life skills that the students are learning under the guise of having fun.

The team’s sole twelfth grade student is Alexa Vazquez Patrana - an exchange student from Mexico. She plans to major in engineering while attending college or university next year, she said. Vazquez Pastrana was part of Mexico’s first all-girls robotic team.

Tenth grade student Olivia Brunner doesn’t just build robots in school, she builds them at home, too. Last year, she said, she built her own “spider” robot which she programmed to play games, spin around in a circle and spray water.

Nathaniel Burnham, a ninth grade student, competed in national competition last year and was able to “borrow” ideas from other competitors, one of the fun things about competition. It’s not just about winning. It’s about learning from each other, he said.

The team needs to raise $8,000 before the annual national competition in May to expand their trip with cultural immersion experiences and exploring New Mexico. The Downsville School District will absorb some of the costs through money previously budgeted for field trip expenses. Total expenses for the trip total $12,000.

Sponsorships in any dollar amount can be mailed to Downsville Central School Stem Club, PO Box J, Downsville, NY 13755.

The club will hosts a robotics showcase for the community on Wednesday, Nov. 28 from 6 - p.m. at the Downsville Central School Auditorium. Admission is by donation, which will be used to offset the costs of the club’s trip in May.

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