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John Evans students build robot for competition
[January 28, 2013]

John Evans students build robot for competition

L O VELAND, Jan 28, 2013 (Greeley Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Anita Patane loves to tinker with things.

She has for as long as she can remember.

"I'll take an old bed frame and turn it into a cage for my guinea pigs," she said. "That's what I'm doing now." On Saturday, however, Anita, a seventh-grader at John Evans I.B. Middle School, was at Loveland Classical Schools with several of her classmates and science teacher Brandon Beard, competing in a VEX Robotics competition against 23 other teams.

Most amazing for this group of sixth- and seventh-graders is that the 23 other teams they battled against were high-schoolers who were putting to work the robots they made in various engineering classes across the state.

"These kids built this given one hour a week after school since October," Beard said. "Most of the other teams work on their robots daily in engineering classes." JEMS Robotics, the John Evans team, finished seventh out of 24 teams in points during the qualifying rounds to make it into the quarterfinals. The students were successful there and advanced into the semifinal round, but unfortunately their day ended there.

"It's hard to believe we did it," 11-year-old Nomar Rodriguez said. "I didn't think we were going to have the robot fixed by this time." The day was well worth it, the students said. While they were there, they got help and inspiration from the older kids around them, who shared strategy and other ideas with their much-younger counterparts.

The program is one of many 21st century after-school programs John Evans offers, said Beard, who is also a NASA Solar System ambassador.

He first got the idea when he learned of a grant offered by the organizers of Saturday's event. The grant covered the cost of the materials and batteries to put the robot together, at more than $2,000.

"All these students are past science students of mine and current AVID students," he said. "In the past, I've brought some technology to the kids. I knew this would be a perfect match." AVID -- Advancement Via Individual Determination -- is a college readiness program in place in all of Greeley's middle and high schools. It targets students who are at risk of failing to graduate and is designed to increase performance through individualized motivation. It teaches study skills, strategies for critical thinking, organization and collaboration skills, to name a few.

The students not only had to build the robot, but they also had to program the remote control.

"They couldn't just plug it in and have it working," Beard said. "They had to use a computer to program it and tell it what to do to work the robot." That part came down to the wire, with the remote not talking to the robot until late Friday.

Beatriz Sanz, 12, said she was excited to sign up when she first heard about it.

"I want to get more involved in technology," she said. "I thought it was kind of cool and was interested in learning more about it. Plus it helps me with my math." The only condition for the grant was that the students participate in at least one competition. After their success on Saturday, everyone was ready to get back to the drawing board and improve what they already have. Beard had a list of items drawn up midway through the day already that the kids could work on in the future.

Taj Liscano, 13, was just happy to get the opportunity.

"It was a neat idea," the seventh-grader said. "I wanted to learn more about it. This company was so outstanding. Everybody was just so nice." Sherrie Peif covers education for The Tribune. Her column runs on Mondays. If you have an idea for a feature, contact Sherrie at (970) 392-5632 or by email at

___ (c)2013 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) Visit the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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