Build a better tomorrow: Craig Middle School robotics groups work out problems, enhance teamwork

Members of Craig Middle School's LEGO Robotics Club gather around a project in the school's engineering classroom.
Andy Bockelman

Though the materials they’re using may be toys, the students of Craig Middle School’s engineering program are hardly just engaging in playtime.

CMS will send four teams to a LEGO Robotics competition Saturday in Aspen, with Bulldog pupils demonstrating the wide variety of projects that have made up their learning in recent months.

The school recently announced that the program has been selected to receive Colorado Association of School Boards’ Student Achievement Program Award for Middle School, which will be accepted Dec. 6 at CASB’s 79th Annual Convention.

Cristina Vanzo, Isadora Hitz, Lexi Caudell, and Shawn Hovorka have served as the advisers for the program.

Craig Middle School students work out the kinks as part of LEGO Robotics Club.
Andy Bockelman

The upcoming competition tests students on their ability to build and program LEGO vehicles around a tabletop course, with various miniature machines interacting with each other.

Secret code

Assembling the bricks is the easy part.

The more challenging element is getting the constructed pieces in action, which includes coding them to move forward and backward, make turns and accurately stay on course.

Programming the machinery on missions to respond to colors via sensor can make it easier.

“Right now what my code does is it oscillates between black and white,” CMS eighth-grader Roark Browning said.

Under the name Fig Jam, Browning works with teammates including Riley Thompson and Brayden Mott. Browning credited Thompson with getting the machinery more efficient in terms of design.

“The robot has two axes so it can move horizontally and vertically, and so our whole point of this is so now we can have one arm instead of multiple attachments for different missions,” Browning said.

Team Fig Jam displays their work station as part of LEGO Robotics Club.
Andy Bockelman

Mott said he has improved academically in working in groups and developing problem-solving skills in the engineering program, now in his second year.

“Before this, I wasn’t really good at that. The first year really taught me about that, but the second year I improved on that quite a bit,” he said.

Thompson is in his first official year with the robotics program, though he’s done similar projects in the past.

“It’s really cool to see the progression of how we’ve evolved as a team,” he said.

Ian Felix, left, and Miken Madrid display the coding equipment and machinery used in LEGO Robotics Club.
Andy Bockelman

Taking BTU — British Thermal Unit — as inspiration for their group name, CMS seventh-graders Ian Felix and Miken Madrid and their fellow teammates have also learned a great deal.

“I think I feel more prepared this year for coding the robot,” Felix said. “You want to program it for speed and rotations, or you can do it for degrees or seconds.”

Shaping the future

Besides the robotics course, teams also must compile a presentation and flyer on a way to improve communities, which includes research on problems that can be addressed and how to solve them.

The sixth-grade team BBC — Best Building Champions — chose to tackle the issue of house fires, highlighting significant incidents in Craig in the past year that could have been avoided.

Compton Byers noted there were 27 people who were displaced by the Davis House fire on Labor Day, and his relatives were among those on the scene.

“My great-uncle couldn’t wait for firefighters respond, so he began kicking doors down and making sure everyone was out and safe,” he said. “House fires happen frequently in our community due to our dry weather and climate.”

From left, Mathew Allen, Jose Gutierrez, Compton Byers, Luke Colby, and Maryann Booker display part of their slideshow presentation on house fire prevention as part of LEGO Robotics Club.
Andy Bockelman

A fatal Christmas Eve house fire is also a topic of conversation for the group in their planned presentation.

“House fires happen way too frequently in our small community,” Maryann Booker said, noting a toddler’s death and an injured firefighter in the incident. “Our community has experienced too much heartbreak from house fires.”

Luke Colby listed the array of causes that can lead to a blaze, such as cooking equipment, portable heaters, smoking in bedrooms, barbecues, flammable liquid and lightning, to name a few.

“All of these things make it easy for a fire that can burn your house down,” he said.

He quoted the US Fire Administration, stating that 51 percent of house fires are caused by cooking equipment, while a standard house can be totally engulfed in flames in just under minutes.

Mathew Allen added that adult supervision is key.

“If a child is using fire in any way, you should have adult supervision always,” he said. “Something could go wrong, even by accident.”

As part of their research, team members spoke with Shane Krause of Craig Fire/Rescue to get a good idea of how to limit fires.

For their solution, Jose Gutierrez spoke for the team’s advocation for greater fire prevention tools in buildings and homes, such as extinguishers, smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and inspections by professionals.

Reminding community members of the problem is key, CMS instructors said, and part of the project is to design a flyer that can be used for educational purposes.

Craig Middle School’s Mathew Allen, Luke Colby and Jose Gutierrez work on their project for LEGO Robotics Club.
Andy Bockelman

The Hazards is an all-girls team comprised of Carrie Brown, Hannah Kilpatrick, Josefina Kuberry and Caroline Schenck.

“We just happened to have an all-girls team, it wasn’t really planned, but I think it’s cool for them. People sometimes think it’s only boys who can do the engineering and technology, so it’s empowering for girls to feel that success,” Hitz said.

Vanzo said she personally enjoys seeing girls take on subjects such as engineering. A planned field trip for seventh-grade girls last spring to a conference on science- and math-related careers wound up getting ruined by a blizzard.

“There’s not a lot of women in the STEM field, so we always like to inspire them,” Vanzo said.

For their problem and solution, the Hazards met via teleconference with Norm Weaver of Yampa Valley Sustainability Council on the prospect of converting trash and other discarded items to insulation materials.

“He taught us that the houses that we think aren’t sustainable are actually more sustainable than they were 50 years ago,” Brown said.

The team originally had the idea of building an entire house out of trash but scaled down the concept.

From left, Craig Middle School’s Caroline Schenck, Carrie Brown, Josefina Kuberry and Hannah Kilpatrick gather in the CMS library around a teleconference screen.
Andy Bockelman

“They kind of realized that was too big of a problem to tackle, so they tried to find something that could be done in our community,” Caudell said.

A trip to the local landfill was also part of the project.

“Even though insulation is efficient, it’s wasteful once the house is torn down,” Brown said. “Even if it’s efficient, there’s always room for improvement.”

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