Robotics students hone their skills prior to regional tourney

January 1, 2014 

Robotics students from Goodman, Harbor Ridge and Kopachuck middle schools met at Harbor Ridge in late November for a competition between first-year students and a friendly competition for second-year teams.

The second-year teams went on to the First LEGO League state-qualifying round last month in Seattle.

All three Peninsula School District teams did well at the Seattle-based regional tournament.

“Each team had at least one round’s score they could be really proud of, and the projects were very creative,” said Kopachuck science teacher Joy Giovanini, the school’s team leader.

The Phoenix from Kopachuck won the Research Award and qualified for the state semi-finals tournament, which will take place in mid-February in Seattle.

“HRMS seventh-graders Omar Ramadan and Austin Erkers watched and learned as their robot placed the cave sensor in the final round of competition,” team teacher and coach Shira Stark said about the November competition.

Simultaneously, Jaren Sage, Sky Parker, Dominic Severe and Gabby Gates — Harbor Ridge eighth-graders from Team RTT — practiced and improved their chances for the First LEGO League state-qualifying round.

First- and second-place team scores in the Robotics 1 competition were only separated by five points. The Goodman team brought home first place and Harbor Ridge was second.

The eighth-grade, second-year robotics teams from the three schools got a chance to practice the tasks programmed into their robots, and to share strategies and tips with one another.

“As a group, we faced many challenges and internal conflict,” Harbor Ridge seventh-grader Max Meyer said. “At times, our robot didn’t do what we programmed it to, and we debated what to do. But in the end, it did the tasks primarily correct, and as a group, we were proud.”

Goodman’s coach, seventh-grade life science teacher Carol Rivera, said this trimester’s split class of beginning and advanced robotics students was a great group of students.

“I’ve enjoyed watching their creativity and problem-solving skills as they tackle the tasks for their respective challenges, and work together to overcome obstacles encountered along the way,” Rivera said.

At the Harbor Ridge tourney, Goodman beginning robotics students Josh Condon, Dylan Parker and Stacie Finley’s concentration during the sudden-death round paid off; they claimed the title of “Mars Robot Challenge Champions.”

And Goodman’s advanced robotics students Morghan McGinn, Tom Poulton and Adrian Sandoval tested their vehicle in preparation for the FIRST LEGO League qualifier in Seattle.

Kopachuck’s Jacob Welty, Zach Batanian and Levi Kroll programmed their robot to traverse multiple walls toward the safe zone on the LEGO Nature’s Fury board. It was no mean feat.

“The best part of this tournament was that students from all over the district got to share what they had learned, cheer each other on and see the unique solutions each team came up with for completing the same missions,” Stark said.

Giovanini said her students were thankful for the practice before the regional tournament.

“Running a district-level robotics competition each term would not be possible without such enthusiastic collaboration and communication between robotics teachers, plus supportive administrators happily hosting our roving tournaments,” Giovanini said. “We enjoy seeing our students living and loving (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in our classrooms. Who knows where the fuse that is lit today will lead tomorrow?”

A high point of the adventure was when I met Claire Brunkow, a seventh-grade photographer from Harbor Ridge.

At my request, she emailed me her best photo from the robotics tournament at HRMS and noted: “I am fond of this picture because the team members are all focused on their robot and the task at hand.”

And that’s the recipe for success.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@

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