Student-teacher teamwork brings the human element to robotics
Fifth-grade Winfield student Rowan Moore was skipping school.
His grandpa helped him do it.
The pair were checking out the 3rd Annual Cowley College Robotics Competition, held in late April on the college’s Sumner Campus.
Moore’s teacher had excused him for the day to attend the event accompanied by his grandfather Bob McGregor, a retired engineer and Cowley College Trustee.
But there was a condition.
Moore had to report back to the class and perhaps encourage his fellow students to start prepping a team for next year.
This year’s competition welcomed 29 teams of middle school students from 14 local schools. The youngsters showed off their impressive skill in coding, configuring and constructing robots.
SCEC was a proud co-sponsor of the event along with KanOkla, Sumner-Economic Development and Cowley College.
The event highlights an often overlooked side of robotics, says KanOkla CEO Jill Kuehny.
“It all boils down to the human connection,” Kuehny said.
Moore felt it. At the end of the event, he sounded like he’d just come off an amusement ride.
“It was fun! I really liked the robot, Tricky,” he said, referring to one of the student-built projects. “But the mirror and maze looked hard.”
If you bring kids and technology together, then teamwork, problem-solving and inspiration flow.
It’s another classic example of “if this, then that,” the simple but essential formula shared by robots and humans alike.
For instance, if you’re a passionate teacher with a packed schedule, then you’ll get up extra early to work with your student robotics team.
Some schools don’t offer robotics classes, so passionate teachers like Attica’s Robin Ybarra have to get creative with their schedules. Her team meets for robotics sessions 30 minutes before school starts. Working lunches do the trick for Vanessa Sawyer’s fifth and sixth grade students at Wellington’s Eisenhower Elementary.
Husband-and-wife team Jim and Karen Swafford lead the Clearwater Junior High robotics squad. Their team boasts 34 students, including several girls.
Jim explained that boys instinctively jumped on board with the project. It took some added perspective to convince the girls to join.
“I knew we needed to have the girls represented on a team, too,” he said. “So I asked the female students ‘Do you really want this group of boys creating the technology in your future?’”
While robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they don’t always behave as intended.
Alex Guardado is a seventh-grade student from Clearwater’s robotics team.
Guardado sat in the common area intently coding his phone with an app used to navigate team robot, Tricky. He explained how it worked, showing how the program guided the robot to pick up a ball, reverse and toss it into a basket.
Tricky’s first attempt to grip the ball failed, but Guardado just chuckled.
“Aw, that’s the beauty of coding — you are always making adjustments,” he said.
Here, failure doesn’t lead to tears or frustration. For these students, it means their team has one more problem to solve.
For more information about the challenge or upcoming events, call Jan Grace, Cowley College, at 620-441-6556 or visit www.sumnercountyrobotics.com.