New WHHS robotics club to compete in February
New WHHS robotics club to compete in February
Posted on 01/21/2016
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WEST HAVEN, Jan. 12, 2016 — To the untrained eye, the gears, fasteners, rods and wires in West Haven High School’s engineering classroom are just piles of metal and plastic.

But to students in the school’s new VEX Robotics Club, those piles of parts are future robots that will soon launch balls at targets, zoom around the room, and complete any other tasks that the teens program into the gadgets’ software. And club members hope one of their creations will be a winner at a February competition against other schools across the state.

They’re currently working in three teams within the club on different robots and will choose one to enter into the Connecticut Technology Engineering Education Association’s Nothing But Net Qualifier competition on Feb. 27 at Middletown High School.

Though the WHHS STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Department oversees the group, students don’t have to be in a STEM class at the high school to participate.

“We’re always looking for more STEM opportunities for our students because the classes here are so popular and it’s a growing industry that we want our kids to learn about. What’s been great about the VEX Robotics Club is that it’s attracting not only kids in STEM courses, but also those who have never taken them,” said club adviser and WHHS STEM teacher Michael Barraco.

The club has about 20 WHHS students of all grades working in teams each week after school to build robots from a kit. They build a basic model with kit instructions and then include their own modifications depending on what design they think will help the robot best complete tasks in the competition, such as picking up and throwing a ball.
robotics collage

“Right now, they’re building prototypes to see which one will be best and entered into the contest. It can be one robot, or two, with one of the robots lifting the other,” Barraco explained. “We have a computer program they’re using to test out the prototypes, but at the competition, the students will have to reprogram the robot to make different moves based on the requirements announced that day by judges.”

The work is familiar to some students in the club who have built robots in WHHS STEM classes and used advanced computer software to program them, but newcomers are also catching on quickly.  Malia Glover, who has not taken a WHHS STEM class but previously attended a STEM program outside of school, joined because she liked the idea of working with peers to build something together.

“I like the fact that everyone doesn’t have to build their robot the same way and can do different versions,” the freshman said.

WHHS STEM students Oreo Olowe, a junior, and James Delgado, a sophomore, hope to study engineering in college and joined the VEX club because they enjoyed the STEM classes they took in school.

“I want to do mechanical engineering in college,” Olowe said. “I always want to disassemble stuff, and this gave me the perfect opportunity.”

The VEX Robotics club is the latest addition to the WHHS STEM department, which was created just a few years ago. Last year, STEM programmatic enhancements included a panel discussion involving Sikorsky employees, a weekend program run at Gateway Community College and WHHS, a visit to Yale University to learn about computer programming and entrepreneurship, and, for female students, a new WHHS Girls in STEM initiative.


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