Conner Christenson shows off his team's robot, while adviser Matthew Weyers looks on. Photo by David Richards
By David Richards
It's 7 a.m., and these middle schoolers aren't sleeping in, but hard at work.
Byron Middle School has formed two robotics teams this school year, with the first competition at Rochester Community and Technical College Dec. 15.
The students, and there are 19 of them, meet pretty much throughout the week from 7 to 7:50 a.m. before school as the teams are considered extracurricular activities, the way sports are.
"We're thinking the word is going to spread next year," said Matthew Weyers, a sixth grade teacher who also serves as the adviser.
The teams, which are popular throughout the country in both middle school and in high school, have been made possible locally by Weyers, who first inquired about starting the program; parent volunteers who donate their time and engineering skills; and school board members Chris Douglas and Peggy Morris, who Weyers said donated their board stipend for the effort.
"My brother in law was involved in robotics when he was in high school in Wisconsin, and he said that was his favorite part about high school," Weyers said.
As part of the curriculum, each team must order parts for their robot and work space, which resembles a long lego table.
In the space, each team will try to earn points by programming their robot to complete more than a dozen different challenges, including a mini bowling game, for instance. In addition to the challenges, each team will have to give a presentation on the year's theme, which is "Senior Solutions."
The theme revolves around making life easier for senior citizens.
One Byron team came up with the idea of a hydraulic cane, while the other designed an oven where the door swings out instead of up and down.
Conner Christenson, who one day hopes to be a financial adviser like his father, said he enjoys the robotics team, although he'd like to see actual head to head robot competitions like he's seen on YouTube.
"Oh, I'd like to do that," he said.
As for now, the robotics program is geared toward completing challenges, giving presentations and competing against other schools.
"They are doing a ton of work," Weyers said. "It's been a lot of fun to watch the kids come together."
Chad Jorgensen, who has sons in the program, has worked as a mechanical engineer the past 17 years and volunteers his time for the teams.
He said he enjoys to watch the students brainstorm and find solutions to problems.
"They feed off each other," Jorgenson said. "It's fun to watch them figure it out."
Jorgensen, who works in Owatonna, said he's told his co-workers about the bright students he works with, and they've been impressed.
""If we encounter a problem at work, someone will say," 'Why don't you take it to those middle school students?' " he said.