Digging through metal pieces of various shapes and sizes, a group of students worked to put the finishing touches on a robot.

Once that was complete, the fun began.

The boys carried the robot out into the hallway, placed it on the floor and used a controller to move it forward and backward and open and close the claw. Once they were comfortable with that, they added some plastic pylons and cubes so they could practice for their first competition.

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The Robotics Club at Crothersville Junior-Senior High School has been a hit so far. The 20 students in Grades 6 through 12 are excited about the school’s new offering.

“I think it will probably be a better way to get some students to have a fun time and meet other people,” seventh-grader Dakota Meredith said.

“More people can get involved in more stuff,” fellow seventh-grader Briar Robinson said.

Hope McMannamy, a science teacher at the school, was approached in November about starting a club at Crothersville. Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. had received a grant from Jackson County United Way to purchase the robots and practice kits.

The club started meeting in January, gathering for an hour after school every Tuesday. Before long, they had two robots ready to roll.

Club members followed a manual to construct the robots. The only piece they didn’t have to put together was the claw.

“They’ve modified them since then to kind of change the weight, the center of gravity of it so they can pick things up,” McMannamy said. “Also, the one robot has been switched out so it’s got the high gears and can move faster.”

Assembling the robots was a little easier than everyone initially thought it would be, Dakota said.

“We had a little bit of trouble at the beginning trying to put it all together,” he said. “But once we got it all together and figured out how it all worked, it was smooth sailing from there.”

Briar said it helped to have several students providing suggestions.

“It’s a lot easier because there were more people,” he said. “There were some challenges because it’s hard to get the bolts in some places where it’s a tight squeeze.”

McMannamy said it was important to her to let the kids do the work themselves. Hands-on is the best way to learn, she said.

“That’s kind of the way I run things in my classroom, too,” she said. “I want to make sure they are actually experiencing things and learning from it. That’s the biggest thing for me. We’re learning as we go. I say ‘we’ because I’m learning, too. That’s the nice thing about this.”

Now that the robots are ready to go, the students are preparing for their first competition, the Jackson County VEX Robotics Tournament on March 12 at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour. The new event will pit Crothersville against Brownstown Central, Seymour and Trinity Lutheran high schools, which all have established robotics teams.

VEX, the company that makes the robots, offers tournaments around the nation at the middle school, high school and college levels with a different game each year. This year, it’s Skyrise.

Crothersville club members have read through a 25-page competition manual to know the rules of the game. Each school will have two minutes to move plastic cubes and put them on goals of various heights in a 12-foot-by-12-foot square field.

“We’re a first-year program, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up with groups that have been doing it for a while,” McMannamy said.

The students are excited to compete, too.

“I’d like for us to work together and win,” Dakota said. “I think we all have to try to figure out who all is going to be driving and how well we drive it, who would probably be better servicing it if something were to happen.”

McMannamy said she is waiting for software to arrive so they can learn about programming. They also have conducted a couple of bake sales to raise money for extra parts in case they need them for the competition.

The fundraisers help because the students don’t have to pay dues to be in the club. To participate, students must be on the A-B honor roll or obtain a recommendation from a teacher.

“It’s something different,” McMannamy said of the club. “It’s a little bit of engineering that they probably wouldn’t normally see at this level. So that’s exciting as far as industry goes in the area for the future because these kids will have a head start on what they are looking at for business.”

Dakota said it has sparked an interest in a future career.

“I’ve thought about doing engineering or something like that,” he said. “I think it would probably help get some better jobs in engineering or mechanics or something.”

No matter what career path they choose, McMannamy said, robotics is good for students to learn.

“It has been nice seeing the way that they work together and also what they are learning from it,” she said. “You can see them making connections with the different things that they are doing.”

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