Robot takeover: Gutierrez expands STEM program

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The robots have taken over at Gutierrez Middle School. What began as an after-school club for students at Gutierrez Middle School has expanded into a full-fledged operation with added teams, summer camps, and a growing fleet of robots.

Harlingen FIRST Robotics, headquartered at GMS, has added two new teams – Jag Tech and RGV Rotors – to its existing Robo Jags to accommodate its increasing members and diverse age group.

Last year, HFR began its first year as participants in FIRST Lego League (grades 4-8) and was successful in advancing to the Regional Competition.

Members of the Jaguar Tech and RGV Rotors teams have advanced to the next level of competition – the FIRST Tech Challenge (grades 7-12). Participants in these teams have been building and perfecting their design for this year’s game the FIRST RES-Q competition.

“Our students have a lot going for them,” said Veronica Baca FIRST Senior Mentor and GMS Library Media Specialist. “We have hosted ‘mini’ meets with other FTC teams, and we’ve mentored other teams. Our goal is to get more Harlingen schools involved in FIRST at the middle and high school level.”

Currently ranked first, this will be the league to beat during competition.

“I feel really proud of being ranked first,” said seventh-grade student Jerome Trevino. “Our teams have worked so hard on the robots, and it shows. We have the advantage in the competition, and other teams will have to catch up to us.”

The 2015-2016 FTC game, FIRST RES-Q, is modeled after rescue situations faced by mountain explorers all over the globe. Played by two Alliances of two robots each, robots will score points by strategically accomplishing as many tasks as possible within the allotted time. Each match begins with a 30-second autonomous period followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period, which includes a 30-second end game.

Members of the Robo Jags have also been meticulously programming their robot to outdo other teams in the FLL’s Trash Trek Challenge.

Sixth-grade student Marco Lopez explains that when it comes to building and programming robots, you need to get your creative juices flowing.

“You mostly need creativity,” says Lopez. “No instructions are given when you start building your robot. You have to make the blueprints in your mind and make changes as you go along.”

Their challenge asks teams to explore the hidden but fascinating world of trash, from collection, to sorting, to smart production, and reuse. They must also invent a solution to help the trash problem and create their own Lego Mindstorms robot to accomplish trash-themed “missions” on a playing field.

On February 6, all three groups competed in the FIRST-Rio Grande Valley’s FTC and FLL Qualifier in Pharr. The RGV Rotors placed runner-up finalist and qualified to the FTC Regional event.

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