R. Roger Rowe robotics program off to a successful start

By Karen Billing

Robots have invaded R. Roger Rowe School.

The new robotics program at Rowe and participation in the First Lego League program has been a success thanks to teachers Dave Warner and John Galipault, a crew of invested young students, dedicated parent volunteers and support from the district administration.

“It was a great year,” said Warner, who along with Galipault went to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute to learn about the programming and the NXT controller the robots use. “Like anything new it was difficult but rewarding.”

The students worked incredibly hard for three months, meeting during lunch club at school as well as after school and even working on weekends trying to cram everything in for competitions. Parent coaches Anna Lillian, Theresa and Paul Gauvreau, and Mark Nelson helped out the four teams made up of fourth and fifth graders, a sixth grade team, a seventh grade team and an eighth grade team.

“My goal was to compete at the qualifying tournament and I hoped at lease one would advance to Legoland…we had two advance,” Warner said.

The two teams that advanced to the Legoland Championships on Dec. 2 were the sixth and seventh grade teams, who earned medals and a trophy.

An assembly was held at Rowe on Friday, Dec. 21, to honor the robotics teams and to see a presentation from a high school team from Coleman Tech Charter School.

Superintendent Lindy Delaney praised the students for being “frontrunners” and stepping up to make it a great inaugural year for the program.

She spoke about how when she first came to the school 28 years ago, she helped get a volleyball team started and it is a program today that her then-students’ children are now a part of. Delaney said she thinks robotics will be the same way thanks to this group of trailblazing students.

“Dave Warner and John Galipault are after that top spot and they’ve got a great young crew to do it,” Delaney said at the Dec. 13 board meeting when she sung the program’s praises to the school board. “It will be interesting to watch it evolve.”

The robots may be made of legos but they’re more than just a toy. The robots are motorized with sensors and the students program them to accomplish different tasks such as grabbing items, using a lever, climb stairs and even send a bowling ball into pins.

“It was a challenge to figure out what worked and what didn’t work,” said eighth grader Greg Fernandez. “My robot could lift a lot of stuff and went really fast.”

In a video of the competition, the students look excited and engaged—they jumped up and down as they watched their robots successfully compete a task and winced if something didn’t go as planned.

The FLL’s approach is more than just building a functioning robot. Students must take on a research project—this year’s theme was seniors. The teams visited the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center to learn about issues that seniors face and then set to work creating a project that would provide a solution. One team created a pair of glasses for seniors who suffer from macular degeneration (vision issues)—the glasses had a sensor that would go off when the seniors got too close to a particular object. The glasses even came programmed with an emergency button.

There is also a significant focus on core values and teamwork. The students must reflect and give a presentation on how they worked together. The students expressed their views on a project board: “After joining FLL, I’ve learned to work better with people,” wrote Aaron Lustig.

“It was more about bonding with friends and learning about seniors’ problems than it was about winning and getting first place,” wrote Alex Lillian.