The Marsteller Robotics Club convened on Feb. 11 at Patriot High School to prepare for the western Prince William qualifier challenge to be held at Bull Run Middle School in Haymarket on Feb 18.
Robotics Club advisor and physics teacher Jay Harris said his students get more out of an all-day practice session, and the Patriot location gives his students more room to spread out. Plus they have the mentorship of Patriot students.
“We’d love to do it more in the future, because we get the high school kids involved too,” Harris said.
However, most Marsteller students are no longer novices, having already built their experience in the science and sport of robotics through previous competitions.
Team Pyro, composed mostly of seventh graders, feel they have a good chance to win the competition next week.
“Last competition we almost won, and we got best design award out of 32 teams,” said team member Chris Dolieslager.’’
Seventh grader Shane Snow said he learned a lot from his experience in Robotics Club last year. However, he admits that moving balls and barrels, rather than donuts, poses unique challenges as well.
“Last year we learned how not to make a robot. Our robot couldn’t pick up anything, because our intake was a claw and it couldn’t hang on to the donuts,” said Snow.
This year, Pyro is confident in their new robotic design, which incorporates a conveyor belt and chassis.
Pyro students are a step ahead of their peers. At 12:30 p.m. they have completed the building of their robot and worked all of the bugs out of their sequence, so they practice loading barrels and balls on the recreational field.
Although Pyro members are having fun, they remain acutely aware that they are acquiring life skills.
“It takes a lot of trial and error,” Cameron Rhodes said.
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up. I think it shows me that you can’t just add metal with metal. You can’t just put stuff together; you have to use your mind,” Dolieslager said.
“You have to plan it out, you can’t just throw it together,” said Snow, who said he prefers programming to building.
In the main room across the hall, an all girls’ team works on their robot. Team Arcee, named for the best-known female Transformer, consists of eight grader Mary Supernaw and sixth graders Ashley Dimino and Heidi Baisch.
While teams may be coed, the girls decided they worked better together without the boys overriding their ideas.
Like Transformers, robotics is a male-dominated-field, but one in which these young women hope to carve their niche.
Supernaw said last year she was the only advanced level girl in the competition, but she stuck it through. Now she is a team leader for younger students, such as Baisch, who said she joined because of her interest in math and science.
Dimino began working with Robotics in fifth grade, when her mother got her into Vex Robots at Robotics Summer Camp run through NOVA.
Amy Harris, wife of Jay Harris, is the director of the camp, which is funded by various local corporate technology sponsors.
“Lockheed Martin asked me if I wanted to do it, five years ago, and I said, ‘no,’ said former Marsteller Robotics Club advisor, Joshua Labrie. “Later they gave me a mentor and some money to get it started,”
Labrie now teaches chemistry at Patriot High School and is a voluntary adviser for the robotics program at the high school.
Labrie explained much of what goes on in Robotics Club is problem solving, but the work for the adviser is to keep the equipment up to speed, since it would be disappointing for the students to lose a competition due to a bad part or computer bug.
He also explains the extraordinary time commitment on the part of students and advisers, who receive little if any compensation.
“Would you do that if it wasn’t a good program?” Labrie asked. “No, but I know what these kids are learning.”
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