Napa Middle School Students Learn Robotics, Circuitry in New Elective Class

Redwood Middle School students are learning robotics

Jennifer Huffman, Reporter, The Register
Published on March 20, 2019

The miniature robot on wheels rolled along the hallway floor at Redwood Middle School, twisting and turning on command. But this was no kid’s toy.

The robot is a high-tech device programmed by students in a new elective class called robotics circuitry. Some 30 students are learning computer coding, robotics and basic circuitry in the class.

They include students Peyton Czekalewski, Nick Sims, Ivan Acosta and Roman Williams, the architects of this particular robot’s programming.

Watching their miniature robot push a miniature load of “inventory,” the four carefully reviewed the robot’s path along an activity map representing the layout of a fictional warehouse and production facility.

If the robot works correctly, it will complete a programmed route and successfully deliver its “load.”

This robotics elective is challenging

Robotics and circuitry class teacher Kristy Lindsey said the project is “complex. There’s a lot of things going on.”

However, the boys’ robot was not quite cooperating. It was making one turn too widely, and as a result, the load was falling to the side.

The four team members huddled near a laptop, editing the computer code that drives the robot on its path.

“We have to decode a lot” to make it work correctly, said Sims.

Nick Sims troubleshooting the team’s robot

Sims said he chose the elective and wanted to work on this specific robot exercise because he likes taking on tough projects.

“I’ve always tried to better myself,” he said.

The four team members are “all really competitive and we went for the hardest (project) possible,” said Sims.

According to Czekalewski, “My first plan is baseball and my backup plan is computer science, and I heard there’s a lot of jobs” for that industry. So he signed up for the class.

“It’s fun to challenge yourself,” said Williams.

“I like building stuff, and I thought I’d learn more about robotics,” said Acosta.

Student Jaxon Leake created circuitry and wiring for a police “bot” that he programmed to sound sirens and flash colored lights. He signed up because the class “looked pretty cool.”

Ridley Madison, an 8th grader, is one of only two girls in the class. She selected the elective because “I like computers and robotics interested me.” Madison said she didn’t know why more girls had not signed up.

Madison partnered with student Delay Anderson to create a program that causes a light on a circuit board to flash a message in Morse Code.

“Greetings from Delay and Ridley,” the lights “spelled” out using shorter and longer blinks.

“Computers are my favorite thing in the world,” said Anderson. “I want to design video games in the future.”

Students solve real-world problems

Lindsey, who also teaches math classes at Redwood Middle School, said she likes the idea of kids learning real world problem-solving skills, especially related to computers and programming. Many jobs will use those skills in the students’ future, she said.

Her students are enthusiastic about mastering new skills. “They get so involved,” Lindsey said. “I’m amazed at what they can do.”

Local nonprofit NapaLearns provided the computers, training, teacher workshops and a “maker’s cart” filled with all the tools and supplies to create circuits and program computers to run the robots.

“I feel so grateful” that NapaLearns was able to help make the elective available to the kids, Lindsey said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have it.”

At the end of the semester, 10 students will make up two teams from Redwood Middle School at a “RoboPlay” competition at UC Davis. This robotics competition lets students showcase real world math problem-solving skills in a competitive environment using math and programming.

In 2018, 19 NVUSD middle and high school teams attended the competition, where they earned 20 awards out of the 46 distributed.

This article originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register on March 19, 2019.