Local students make national robotics finals

Photo by Aly Brown

Seen from left to right clockwise, Ava Duttera, Ellie Armato, Bryce Kelly, Nate Jenkins, Ariana Le, Gracie Armato, Sam Penrod and Aidan Duttera.

Sarah Jenkins’ classroom — tucked away on the campus off Crawford Drive in Brentwood — is once again the site of burgeoning engineers on a mission to win a national competition.

Walk into the Krey Elementary School classroom after school and you’ll find her robotics teams working together on the floor, surrounded by craft materials and speaking animatedly as they attempt to make their robots perform certain tasks.

In February, the students found out they made it into the finals of the Wonder League Robotics Competition (WLRC), and with a March 23 deadline to submit their projects, they remained focused — even as they laughed and teased one another for losing the duct tape somewhere amongst the glitter and glue.

“My favorite part is watching them form a team and work together, because both of the groups were not friends prior to the team’s forming,” said Jenkins. “They were selected for different reasons. It’s neat to see how they work together and what each individual brings to the team. One might be better at coding, someone might be good at building things, others are very creative.”

Put on by Wonder Workshop Inc., the competition is free for groups to enter, and grand prizes include $5,000 in grant money, among others. This year, Cartoon Network has partnered with the organization in an effort to bring more humor and creativity to the project. Jenkins has two teams in the race to win.

One team is comprised of fourth- and fifth-graders, and the other is a reunion of her original squad from 2018 — a group of now-seventh-graders who venture over from Adams Middle School to participate. The students include Ava Duttera, Ellie Armato, Bryce Kelly, Nate Jenkins, Ariana Le, Gracie Armato, Sam Penrod and Aidan Duttera.

“We’re trying to build a catapult,” explained Bryce, a member of the younger team. “We have to get the ping pong ball over the barrier and into the cup.”

With the search for the duct tape still underway around her, Ellie further explained the attachment they tested on their robot to make it successful.

The older group worked on a similar mission with a different set of obstacles. Both teams were required to invent a story, complete with a made-up world and characters, to go alongside their tasks. The older team decided to make their robot — named Dash — part of a magical realm of unicorns. The younger team invented a perceived adults’ paradise: a Costco with no membership dues, featuring a stream of coffee running through the building. In addition to making their robots Dash and Cue perform the required tasks on their obstacles, the kids are also required to create and edit a video featuring their worlds and missions.

Sam, a seventh-grader who was on the original team, said it’s satisfying to see Dash complete his tasks.

“It’s harder this time,” he said, noting they’ve learned a thing or two about time management since the last endeavor. “We’re going to try and finish this final mission with the time we have. We’re hoping to get the maximum points. Last time, we spent too much time making something that we didn’t use.”

Ariana Le is another seventh-grader. One of her specialties was designing the architecture of the set, which features a magical donut shop.

“Robotics gives you a chance to be creative,” she said.

After all participants submit their entries this month, WLRC will announce winners in May.

“This competition is really good for incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), because it has so many different elements to it,” Jenkins said. “Incorporating creativity: that’s my favorite part of it. They get to do set design, video, there’s all the tech, and the judges really reward the projects that show the kids developed and completed the assignments on their own.”

In the end, Sam found the duct tape.

For more information on Wonder Workshop and WLRC, visit https://www.makewonder.com/classroom/robotics-competition/