Robotics infiltrates team, club and classrooms at KHS

The KHS Robotics Team works on a robot for competition.

Jennifer Feals

December 9, 2012

KENNEBUNK — On a Wednesday after hours at Kennebunk High School, senior David Cavagnaro is examining the workings of what is quickly turning into a robot — one that will be designed, created and programmed to meet a challenge.

Cavagnaro is one of the 10 students at KHS participating in the Robotics Team, which is designing, building and programming a robot to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

As part of a push to include more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum at KHS, robotics are not only the focus of the after school team, but also a club quickly growing in popularity and branching out into classrooms — math, physics, information technology in the global society, and even English.

Students can learn the use of technology, programming, mathematics, problem-solving and more — all through the use of robotics, teachers say.

“It’s bringing it all together in one sweet package,” said physics teacher Melissa Luetje, one of the first teachers to use robotics in the classroom at KHS. “This is an innovative, hands-on way to teach many things through robotics.”

The effort has been supported by the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel through grants, including $650 to send math teacher and co-coach of the Robotics Club, Aaron Germana, to the Tufts University LEGO Engineering Institute for teachers, as well as $2,185 to launch the Robotics Club and help fund the FIRST Tech Challenge.

The Robotics Club started last year at KHS and this is the first year about 10 club members have formed a team to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, to take place in January. Their robot will compete against others created by high school students and will have to be able to meet this year’s challenge — picking up a total of 52 plastic rings and placing them on a series of posts at varying heights.

Freshman Mark Auld is a member of the Robotics Club but is not competing with the team, rather he is creating his own robotic car from scratch using LEGOs. The robotic vehicle will have blinkers, headlights, rear lights, and will be able to move.

“I just like to build them and see how they work,” Auld said.
Part of the power behind robotics is that there are plans students can follow to build their robot, Germana said, or they can create it.

“Robots lend themselves to creative problem solving. He’s shooting for the sky,” Germana said of Auld’s creation. “His design is not a simple design but that’s good. It provides a challenge and it’s perseverance.”

Club and team member Ethan Eymontt, a sophomore at KHS, said there are so many different parts to robotics that it’s interesting, fun, and always new. Eymontt enjoys programming the robots and can see himself working in the computer engineering field in the future.

“There’s always something new to learn,” he said.

Beth Keezer is also using robots in her classroom for the International Baccalaureate course “Information Technology in the Global Society,” and said the students have enjoyed it.

“They see their efforts. It’s a really great hands-on activity,” she said. “Even when they’re not successful they are successful. You are learning something new every step of the way.”