Kalama School librarian gets hooked on robotics

Kalama Intermediate School librarian Jody Brown said she underestimated the challenge of starting a robotics club yet still reaped rewards beyond her expectations. Thanks to a Ke Alahele Education Fund grant from the Maui Economic Development Board, Brown said she had “an amazingly positive experience. … I’m hooked. I’m ready for the next season.”

She said she found coding and building Web sites enjoyable and “naively thought this would translate well into starting a robotics club.” Brown quickly learned that there’s a lot more involved. “Luckily, my students had a variety of backgrounds and experiences and we all spent time teaching each other what we know so far.” Brown said she chose a platform based on training she received in August. “I got some free VEX IQ equipment at the training and bought a lot more with my Ke Alahele grant,” she said. She created two teams at Kalama Intermediate, one with four students and another with five. Both teams were eventually able to design and build a robot. For programming, the club used Modkit for VEX IQ, a free online program that offers a visual programming platform using color-coded and shape-coded boxes. The Kalama teams competed in the December 5-6 VEX IQ competition at Iao Intermediate School.

“The competition itself was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she said. “The hosts and other teams welcomed us ‘newbies’ with open arms and helped us overcome a mountain of problems, including troubleshooting our robot brain. It turns out they were able to determine that one of the brains we bought was completely non-functioning.” The Kalama students did not take the overall award in their first competition, but they did reach the final rounds of play and were selected for the Inspire Award for innovative robot design. “Both of those accomplishments were more than I could have ever asked for or imagined,” Brown said. “It has been a delightfully rewarding activity!”

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