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Robots go to high school in Chino Valley

Jake Davis (center) works on the robot he is helping to build during a summer meeting of the robotics club on Monday, July 18 at Heritage Middle School.
Photo by Ken Sain.

Jake Davis (center) works on the robot he is helping to build during a summer meeting of the robotics club on Monday, July 18 at Heritage Middle School.

Steve Booher, the eighth-grade science teacher at Heritage Middle School, says studies he has read say that more than 50 percent of the current jobs in the country will be done by robots in the future.

The message to students is clear: If you want a job that will last, you might want to consider learning how to design, build and program robots.

The Chino Valley Unified School District voted at its Monday, July 11 meeting to help them do that, expanding the robotics program to include high school students.

Booher started a robotics program last year at Heritage Middle School and had 18 students sign up. When some of those students graduated, they wanted to keep learning about robots.

“Me and my dad were kind of asking if they would continue at the high school,” said Austin Schaible, a rising freshman at Chino Valley High School. He was part of the program last year at Heritage. “Mr. Booher was asking us to help find other people to do it.”

Schaible said that he thinks there are at least six high school students interested in the program. Booher said he’s hoping to sign up 24 students between the two schools to form four teams that will compete in competitions.

“My goal is to have [the high school students] as they get more and more advanced, to come in and help the younger students, so we’ll have some student mentors,” Booher said.

The program had three robots to work with last year. A local business, Bar S Machine Shop, donated a fourth robot for this year. Each robot costs $1,000.

The robots must fit into an 18-inch by 18-inch by 18-inch box when they start a competition. They can grow from that size to whatever limits the students have. At competitions the robots must perform certain tasks and they are evaluated based on how well they perform them.

The competition for this year requires that each robot be able to knock a toy off of a fence to the other team’s side. If one of the foam toys is knocked on their side, then there robot needs to be able to pick it up, and toss it back over to the other side.

In its rookie season, Heritage’s three teams placed 12th, 15th and 17th out of 24 teams competing in a competition that included high school teams with middle school teams.

“This was our first time doing it,” said Jake Davis, who is a rising eighth grader at Heritage. He was part of the program last year. “We had to be creative, and I think that’s one of the things I like about this.”

Last year students used a remote control to direct their robots and will do some of that again this year. But, Booher is introducing the students to programming this year. They will need to learn coding and then tell the robot what to do in code and then stand back and watch to see if it performs as expected.

Booher said that is what makes the robotics program a different experience for students.

“It kind of reaches out to a lot of different kids,” Booher said. “Some kids like the math, they like the computers, they like the programming, but all of them like to build. I have some kids who have struggled in some classes. But they are so hands on. They have really good ideas when it comes to the physical building of the robot.”

Booher said he’s looking for donations from the public to the program, so they can expand it in future years. A tax deductible account has been established if anyone would like to donate.

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