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Arlington Robotics club makes programming, engineering fun

Part four of a four-part series on modern CTE in the Marysville/Arlington area: the Arlington Robotics Club.

 

Courtesy of the Arlington High School Robotics Club

Arlington High School's robot (#2903) at the 2014 FIRST Robotics competition.

Programming, engineering and manufacturing all come together in Robotics clubs like the one at Arlington High School.

Robotics clubs have been spreading across the country for the past several years. They usually participate in the popular FIRST Robotics Competitions, where robots weighing up to 120 lbs. compete in specific contests.

This year the robots had to pass around a 2-foot diameter exercise ball to other robots before shooting it into a goal.

The Arlington robot could not only throw or pass the ball but had an extension that it could raise to block opponents' shots.

Although mainly focused on building a robot, Arlington's group allows for a wide variety of ways to get involved and everyone gets to "find their own fun to be part of the club," said Breena Sarver, a student who handles the 'spirit' and image of the club with their flags and shirts.

"Some [students] do more of the business and leadership side," said Mark Ehrhardt, the advisor for the club and director of technology for the Arlington School District. "Some take on the outreach and publicity and things like that. Some kids really want to be programmers, so they do that part of it. Some really like to build things so they spend more time working in the shop and doing construction."

Edward Radion, an Arlington High School student and the club's public relations manager, said working with photos and videos for the club helped him realize what he was passionate about.

He was not as interested in "dealing with the robot, but instead working with the media side and the public relations side. So working with that I realized I want to go into the marketing field," he said.

Of course those interested in engineering, manufacturing or programming get direct experience as well, said Ehrhardt, and alumni from the club have gone on to follow those paths.

The club is "definitely like a work environment as you're working with these other people and trying to reach a goal within deadlines," said Edward Root, the student programming manager.

Working to complete the robot is closer to real-life projects, said Caroline Vogl, the president of the club. "There's no C [grade]. It's kind of just you failed or you succeeded when it comes to completing the challenge. Either the robot works or it doesn't," she said.

Cooperation and team-building is a necessary work skill that also goes into getting the robot built.

"I like the energy of this club. Everyone's really motivated to get their stuff done. There's a lot of problem solving that goes into it and we work together to solve those problems," said Root.

Students who are not interested in sports or other after-school activities can often find a team that they want to be a part of with robotics, said Ehrhardt.

"I think a lot of the kids that are in our club might join it initially because they're interested in robots, but I think they really like the social aspect of it. Finding other kids who are interested in the same kinds of things that they are interested in," he said.

Sarver admits that she didn't think of herself as someone who would enjoy Robotics Club, but she's enjoyed meeting new people from all across the world at their competitions and is glad she joined.

"I think a big challenge is how we're seen and the image of robotics in general," said Radion. "A lot of people view nerds as being something negative and they think here in Robotics we're exclusive."

Radion says they are trying to change that image and show that they welcome new people.

As part of trying to get their message out there, the club participates in many community events like the Arlington Fly-In or parades where they can show off their robot.

In addition to the community outreach, the students themselves also organize and write the curriculum for a summer day camp for elementary and middle school students. They mentor and teach students about robotics and programming for two weeks in June and July.

"It's really fun to see them excited about the stuff that I am excited about," said Vogl.

Christopher Andersson

Arlington High School Student Cody Weldon (left) and mentor Andrew Berg look at Arlington High School's 2014 robot and examine some of its parts.

Ehrhardt said that more and more parents are seeking programming and engineering programs for their kids and the students themselves are interested in it and find it fun, which has contributed to the growth of Robotics clubs in the last decade.

In 2010 the FIRST Robotics Competition had 1,808 teams competing from many countries around the world. By 2014 that number had increased to 2,720.

"The FIRST organization in Washington hopes to have [clubs] in every school district in the state soon and it keeps growing at an almost exponential rate," said Ehrhardt. "I think you're going to see it like you see high school sports at some point. There will be an elementary level where you start with LEGO robots and then you go to middle school and make bigger robots and you'll progress up to high school that way."

The club's day camp happens during the last week of June and the first week of July and is open to any student in grades 5 to 8. For more information about the day camp or the club you can go to the club's website at neobots2903.org.

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