Arlington students attend robotics camp | SLIDESHOW

ARLINGTON — The summer robotics day camp at Arlington High School followed its debut last summer with a new set of advanced classes to accompany the basic classes it had already offered in the computer-aided design and wood-shop building behind the main AHS building, and the advanced classes that ran from July 15-17 saw the return of not only several elementary and middle school students from last year, but also a student mentor who’s no longer a student at AHS.

Dan Radion, the former president of the AHS NeoBots Team who graduated last year, joined this year’s president Caroline Vogl and seven other student mentors in guiding 32 elementary and middle school students through their first full-fledged robotics competition.

“Last year, the kids could get competitive about which teams of two could build their robots faster, but this year was the first time we pitted their robots against each other,” said Vogl, who described the competition as a sort of sumo wrestling match in which each robot would try to push another out of a ring, whose boundaries the robots recognized through light sensors. “What’s cool about having Dan here is that he designed the curriculum for both the basic and the advanced classes.”

“The robots that have succeeded have been the ones with good frames, low centers of gravity and ramps to push the others,” said Radion, who just completed his associate’s degree at Everett Community College and is heading to the University of Washington to major in computer engineering in the fall. “I was with this program for four years so I want to give back whatever I can. The mentors I had through this program encouraged me to go to college and go into engineering, and now I’m working at MicroGreen Polymers right here in Arlington.”

Radion and Vogl agreed that the summer robotics day camp should be continually tailored to suit the students’ needs, with Vogl suggesting that next year’s camp might include an intermediate level between the basic and advanced classes, or perhaps an extended advanced class. At the same time that they strive to incorporate the feedback of the students who do take part in the camp, they’re also hoping to reach out to more kids who might not know about it yet. Edward Radion, Dan’s younger brother, is the youngest AHS NeoBots Team officer, and the freshman is serving as Vogl’s understudy in public relations.

“We put out two videos a day during our class days, one each for our morning and afternoon classes,” Edward Radion said. “We don’t want to close ourselves off from the community.”

The AHS NeoBots Team is also looking for sponsors to help support the summer robotics day camp, since this year’s camp saw the team paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket for T-shirts for their students. Still, as long as they can foster in younger kids the lessons that they themselves learned through their FIRST Robotics competitions, they consider the exercise worthwhile.

“What FIRST Robotics teaches you is gracious professionalism and ‘cooperatition,’ or cooperative competition,” Dan Radion said. “Your goal is to be the best, but you’re not out to bring down others. You help out opposing teams. We really push that philosophy, especially since younger kids can get really competitive.”

“Nobody got upset when they lost,” Vogl said, echoing Radion’s reports that the students congratulated one another for their efforts. “I’m happy that the Arlington School District has already integrated robotics so heavily into its curriculum for the elementary and middle schools, and with any luck, we’ll be able to spread it even further for those kids who still don’t have access to it.”

Mark Ehrhardt, director of technology for the Arlington School District, believes that robotics could become a program, like football and other school sports, that students are able to pursue from elementary and middle school on up through high school. He also praised the AHS NeoBots Team for running the summer robotics day camps largely on their own.

“They wrote all the curriculum, designed and built all the courses, set everything up and taught all the lessons,” Ehrhardt said. “This is an almost entirely student-run enterprise.”

“It was really fun building robots last year, so I wanted to come back,” said Liam Kikuchi, a sixth-grade student of this year’s advanced class. “This year, I learned how to make robots more stable, so they don’t flip over as easily. They change the challenge every year, so you can’t just do what you did last year, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the mentors questions.”


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