By John Fulton
The Vicksburg Middle School has an exciting program this year for 6th graders – The Robotics Academy. Students will learn about programming, robot building, teamwork and problem solving. The robotics club sent a design for a chassis for a robot to their local sponsor, W. Soule and Company, which produced the chassis without charge.
The students participated in a field trip to Soule where they saw the process from CAD, computer-aided design, to laser cutter to the computer-operated brake. The company does custom metal fabrication, with two jobs alike. It builds large-scale factory systems and components. Factories can punch out millions of widgets, but they can’t do anything without the custom-built machines, elevators, conveyors, mills and other equipment made by fabricators such as Soule. The company has four shops in the Kalamazoo area. The class visited one in Comstock.
So far this year the students have received an introductory course in programming and assembled their robots. The program lasts about 13 weeks in the fall and winter.
There is a separate club for 7th and 8th graders who call themselves the “Control Freaks.” Combined, there are approximately 36 students. The focus for the 6th grade club is on learning programming, math principals, engineering and hands-on engineering tasks. There are 20 kids in this club; student pair up to form 10 teams. The 6th graders are building robots that cost about $300 to build.
The 7th and 8th graders will learn a great deal, but there is also a competitive component. Their competitions last 10-11 hours starting at 7 a.m. They have both local and traveling competitions. They form alliances with other teams for some events, then compete against them for others.
The VMS Robotics Club is funded by corporate sponsorships and donations. This year’s club fundraising goal is approximately $14,000. Best Buy recently provided a $5,000 grant. These funds will be used for , sensors, batteries and servo motors that lift and move objects. There are three sponsorship levels: $250 Bronze, $500 Silver and $1,000 Gold. The primary costs for the robotics club are for building materials and technology.
Matt Bombich became involved in the Vicksburg Robotics Club when his son, Elijah, joined the group. At first, Bombich was just watching and helping a little. Bombich now co-leads the group with Eric Hackman. They are assisted by several adult mentors in both clubs. The mentors and coaches are community volunteers.
Bombich, said, “This isn’t stuff I learned in school. I spend time researching every single day to lead the group. It is very different doings things for myself on my home computer compared to leading a group of 36 middle schoolers. Bombich said, “I didn’t realize how much I would like doing this kind of work. I have even made my own circuit board.”
Coming in the future for the robotics club is 3D printing and CAD experience for the kids. Bombich said, “A big piece of the robotics club is learning skills that can be used today and used in the future in the workforce.”
Bombich pointed out that these students are being exposed to things they just won’t see inside the classroom. And they are doing things that they never conceived or imagined they would do. It is opening the door of possibilities for them. They may discover that they like engineering, electronics, programming, or working in a fabrication shop. By working together with other students to solve complex problems using science, technology, engineering, and math—and having fun doing it—they may just gain enough confidence to believe that they could actually do this stuff for a living.