PQ fifth-graders compete in block-stacking bot battle


Image courtesy of Sarah Divi

By Sarah Divi

Every movement counts in this robotic battle as the timer ticks down. Fifth-grade students navigated their robots around obstacles to stack plastic blocks before the clock ran out.

"It's definitely harder than it looks," said Nathan after the first round. "I wanted to go in the middle and use the robot's arm to pick up the whole shelf to shake off all the blocks at once, but the arms aren't strong enough."

Image courtesy of Sarah Divi

Each student takes a different approach to the competition. Juliana planned to earn the easier points before attempting to stack the teetering blocks. Dylan planned to repeat his first-round successes but to go even faster.

Image courtesy of Sarah Divi

These robot engineers are part of Pequenakonck Elementary School's optional Genius Hour program run by enrichment specialist Dr. Michelle Sands and library media specialist Natalie Koehler.

"I always sign up for Genius Hour just to try it," added fifth-grader Nathan. "The robots are my favorite project this year."

"We have recess for our whole lives, so we might as well try something new," said fifth-grader Juliana, about her eagerness to join the lunchtime group. "It's enjoyable because we work in small groups, which also makes it harder because we have to put more effort in to get it all done."

Image courtesy of Sarah Divi

The first day of the robotics unit was learning to write programming code to control the VEX IQ robot. Then, on the second day, they focused on programming automation to pick up and move a plastic block using the robot's claw. Then a few students opted into an additional four-session 'boot camp' for greater robotics exploration.

So far, during the boot camp, the students have learned to use the handheld controllers and designed the competition layout and rules. After the competition, they will add sensors to the robots and program more automation to complete new challenges.

"Every student has the opportunity to participate in Genius Hour," said Sands. "The students who are competing today continue to dig into deeper levels of content and go into greater depth."

Sarah Divi is the communications specialist for the North Salem Central School District. Sarah has experienced school life from many perspectives - student, substitute teacher, office manager, marketing, and admissions offices - and is now gaining another perspective as a parent. She relishes listening to classroom discussions about anything from elementary English to sixth-grade science to high school history. She also loves alliteration and puns. Sarah always carries a cup of hot coffee, a knitting project, and her children's latest drawings.

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