Richmond School students John Ammon, left, Kristen Kelly, Ryan Painter and Jacob Nielson, also known as the Flying Phantoms, prepare for their robot to complete its Waterlogged Ruins mission for the Wonder Workshop Robotics Competition. Photos by Makenzie Davis

Coding, robotics elective fosters excitement

“Move it 10 more centimeters,” a member of the Flying Phantoms remarked as they were preparing to film their second mission for the Wonder Workshop Robotics Competition.

A little tweaking of the code and the Flying Phantoms — comprised of John Ammon, Kristen Kelly, Ryan Painter and Jacob Nielson — have their dash bot expertly weaving around the coral reef and ruin plastic cups for their Waterlogged Ruins mission.

Upon completion, the 6- to 8-year-old group members beam with pride as “We Are the Champions” plays on a nearby laptop. Instantly, they move onto the next mission.

Two years ago, Richmond School third grade teacher Dede Heimbigner won a prize package consisting of $2,500 worth of Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot Robots during a computer-using educator’s conference. With the newly acquired prize, she signed up for the coding and robotics elective for Richmond School students. The addition of electives was a new venture at the local district that added an extra 30 minutes to the school day.

The electives try to allow for a mixture of STEAM electives — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — along with band and dance.

At the end of the trimester, there were 12 third through fifth-grade students in her advanced robotics and coding elective, and a group of sixth graders preparing their robots in another class.

Often, though, she finds this class is inspiring the students to come in early and stay late so they may work on their robots. “They beg me,” Heimbigner said of the students wanting to stay longer and work. “I’ve been here until dark before with teams trying to finish code.”

In the class, students have been working in teams to complete three challengers for the Robotics Competition, each of which contains three missions. The groups are given a pattern on their mats consisting of blocked squares, currents or even squares they must have their robots go to. All the directions must be met through coding alone. As their robots complete their challenges, the adventure is filmed.

Groups from all throughout the world enter the Wonder Workshop Robotics Competition, and according to Heimbigner, last year’s group was able to snag in the top 5,000 entries out of about 40,000.

But more than the competition, the process

has the students utilizing multiple technological devices at a time. They research and play music on their Chromebooks, they code from an Amazon Fire tablet and their missions are filmed on an iPad. “I have learned to let them experiment and play. They learn quicker than I could’ve ever imagined,” said Heimbigner.

However, the elective does not focus on the robots alone. Through the Tynker website, students work on improving their coding skills by making augmented reality games.

In addition to robotics, students in the Richmond School advanced coding and robotics elective perfect their coding skills. Konnor Mejia, front, and Mathieu Guerra show off one of their augmented reality games they coded.

This is Konnor Mejia’s second year in the class and it was the excitement of the class that had him return. “It was a fun experience to work with robotics and have the chance to do tech,” he said.

With his augmented reality project, Mejia, and his classmates are able to code various games including one where those standing in the view of the Chromebook’s camera are able to appear onscreen along with a Donkey Kong-esque boxer. In a transparent screen, players can hit the boxer and earn points. Another game had Meija and classmates wiggling their arms and body as fast as they could to help “repair” a broken machine. The more movement, the faster the machine repaired itself before time ran out in the game.

Coding the augmented reality games was not easy, Mejia recalled, saying he wanted to quite seven times. But he pushed on.

Through this class, which

is helping to build the foundation of coding — an ever-growing importance in the job market — Mejia, Mathieu Guerra and other students all proudly note they would like a future that involves coding.

On the last day of the trimester, students in Heimbigner’s class were rushing to finish their projects in order to enter the Robotics Competition. Groups close to the goal were allowed to come in after school and others expressed deep emotions after not completing their coding on-time.

The class has helped foster a love of the classroom. “They’re picking this up,” Heimbigner said noting how valuable coding knowledge is … It’s a pretty fun elective,” the teacher noted.

Next trimester, new students will have the opportunity to learn the basics in the beginning robotics and coding class and the fun dip into the coding world starts anew for a whole new group.