Lower schoolers win state at robotics competition

Team tops Maryland, finishes 16th in the nation

This December, while a robot named BB-8 won over audiences across the galaxy in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lower School boys programmed two other robots, named Dash and Dot, to compete against 1,150 teams from across the country in the first-ever Wonder League Robotics Competition — and the force was strong with the team of Connor ’23, Matthew ’23, Gabe ’23Michael ’23Teo ’23 and Seth ’23. These boys, one of six Landon Lower School teams to compete, finished in first place for the state of Maryland and 16th in the nation.

To do so, the boys worked together for two months to use the “Wonder” iPad application to write code and program their Dash and Dot robots to complete a six-mission space-exploration-themed quest that, according to the Wonder League blog, required them to “design solutions to real-world science and technology challenges.”

According to Lower School academic technologist Michael Fisher — who has helped to make computer coding part of the Lower School curriculum and who acted as the boys’ advisor throughout the process — Dash and Dot robots were the perfect way to give his students hands-on robotics and computer coding experience at a crucial time in their educational lives.

“In our technology-driven world, it is more important than ever to introduce boys to these concepts early on,” Fisher said. “The Dash and Dot robot program seemed interesting to me because it was about coding robots during what I think is a time and age where kids start to get involved in their major interests that carry them through the middle grades.”

In addition, Fisher said that the boys learned valuable lessons that they can apply to life in general. “Coding isn’t easy — it takes grit and determination to do this,” Fisher said. “And these team competitions show the boys that if one person doesn’t understand something, the value of the group is that they can ask another member and understand that they are in this together and that more than one mind working together is better than just one.”

The boys agree. “We learned to really work together because there were some challenges where you didn’t quite get it, so you passed it on to the next person to correct it,” said Connor, who began coding over the summer in Fisher’s Landon Summer camp and one day would like to be an engineer.

Matthew, an aspiring game developer who created his own multiplayer game, Code Avengers, over winter break, said this was exactly the case during the difficult “Mission 6” in the robotics competition. “We had to program the robot to collect cups from around the room, so it was very hard to get the right coordinates,” he said.

“If you were off by maybe an inch, then the cup would roll off the side of the robot when you were taking it back,” added Gabe, who hopes to work for NASA programming Mars rovers. “We had to work together to get it right.”

With the competition behind them, Fisher and the boys have already begun to tackle new coding challenges. They are currently learning to program a “sphero,” the ball-shaped robot that inspired Star Wars’ BB-8, and also coding a “myo,” a motion-control armband that the boys can wear and use to direct a robot’s movements. May the force be with them.

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