ARDMORE, Okla. — Cheers erupted when a robot programmed by a group of Lincoln Elementary School students successfully pushed three cans behind the start line of their challenge mat.
"Challenge 7: Bulldozer Mania" was one of 10 challenges offered during the Junior Botball Challenge Day hosted by Noble Academy at the Noble Research Institute on Saturday, May 7.
Each challenge required students to creatively apply computer coding and critical thinking skills to program a robot to move and accomplish a task autonomously. In the case of Challenge 7, the Lincoln students attached a curtain rod to their robot and wrote code to enable it to move and sweep only three of the 12 cans on the mat with the press of a button.
"We are using more robotics in agriculture from sensors that detect moisture and nutrient levels in the ground to drones that can take aerial images that help us measure crop growth and health," said Frank Hardin, Ph.D., Noble Academy educational outreach manager. "Right now, we need programmers in robotics. Botball is a great way to get kids interested. It's also a way for Noble Academy to add technology and engineering components to our science- and math-based educational programs to round out our STEM focus."
Junior Botball is a program started by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics in Norman, Oklahoma, designed to teach elementary school students how to write computer code and apply the engineering design process using robots. Students participate in challenge days throughout the country and world.
In preparation for the challenge day, Noble Academy and the Noble Research Institute Department of Computing Services hosted a skills workshop that trained selected fourth- and fifth-grade students from Charles Evans, Dickson, Lincoln, Lone Grove, Oak Hall and Plainview schools. The challenge day was open to all area school teams and brought in additional students from Lincoln Elementary School, Madill Elementary School and Heritage Trail Elementary School from Moore, Oklahoma.
"I'm impressed with what all they've learned," said Tammy Presley, mother of Amber Presley, a fifth-grade student at Dickson Upper Elementary School who participated in the Noble Academy skills workshop. "I think it will be very beneficial for their futures, and Amber is so interested in it."
Each student whose team completed a challenge received a pin-on button to commemorate their achievement. When the team completed six challenges, the students earned a trophy for their school. The junior program prepares students for the tournament-based Botball program for middle and high school students.
After completing their six challenges, 12-year-old Aaron Stinson, a Lone Grove Intermediate School student, and 11-year-old Zach Zimmerman, a Plainview Intermediate Elementary School student, sat on the floor near their practice challenge mat and continued to work on their code. They planned to try at least one more new challenge before calling it a day.
Both boys, who said they have always loved computers and became Botball partners through the Noble Academy skills workshop, proudly displayed the buttons on their shirts and said they planned to wear them to their schools Monday.
"I would say the best part has been learning programming and meeting new friends," Aaron said. He turned to look at Zach and said, "We've gone from strangers at rival schools to best friends."
Would they do it again?
Both smiled and bobbed their heads up and down as they said, "Definitely!"
Anthony Tafolla, a fifth-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School, celebrates successful coding at the Junior Botball Challenge, held May 7, 2016, at the Noble Research Institute. Noble Academy, the youth education and outreach program of the Noble Research Institute, hosted a skills workshop and challenge day to engage elementary students in technology- and engineering-related hands-on learning.