Kucera Middle School Robotics Department teams up for big win

IECN photo Marina Rojas: The Winning 1st Place MESA Robotics Invitational Champions with their winning robots and mission board for 2017 and last year's 2016 trophy (from left): Robert Del Greceo, William Odom, Dr. Ray Bryson, Julia Kearney, Victor Navarro, Juan Loza, and Araseli Munoz.
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Most of us think of the world of robotic engineering with stereotypical participants:  the MIT geek pushing up broken and taped glasses; the Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper clone spouting facts with little emotion towards others; or the quiet nerd girl with stacks of books to hide behind.

A visit to Rialto’s Kucera Middle School Robotic’s Program quickly breaks those stereotypes as students are engaged with a great dose of excitement and enthusiasm.  

Ray Bryson, robotic’s program director, is a low-key and kind of unassuming sort.  The minute he enters the classroom with the students though, his eyes light up and a great big smile never seems to leave his face. 

“They work as a team here,” Bryson shares, “everyone is a specialist in one or several areas of the phases of making the robots.  Some do it all, but in the team situation they all pull together for the common good.”  

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Starting in the sixth grade students are taught roughly 30 basic lessons for understanding and completing the robotics course.  By the end of the first year they are able to complete the basics of building, programming and coding the robots and usually enter competitions in the seventh and eighth grade levels.

This year some of his sixth grade students had completed all 30 lessons ahead of schedule and wanted to enter a competition.  “While I was hesitant at first to do that, I decided it was up to them and we entered them in the MESA Robotics Invitational,” said Bryson.   The students took first place.

Araceli Munoz, 11, found her first competition interesting, “We got so many compliments on our robots,” she said, “Other competitors were actually standing around staring at our board instead of working on their own stuff.” 

William Odom, 12, agreed, “It was cool that everyone was watching us.  It felt good to know they thought our robots were so well made.”

7th grader Iesus Martinez, 12, has been in the Robotics class for several years and says that he has felt proud to go to the competitions even when the team doesn’t win.  “What I liked about the first competition we lost,” he shared, “is that we learned so much for improvement for the next time.  I learned that failing sometimes is just a way to learn to try new things and to take you away from staying where you are.” 

Martinez also shared some thoughts on the future of robotics.  “People have to remember that machines can be used for good or bad.  We want them to be used for good.”

Israel Hernandez, a 13-year-old 8th grader said he came to the robotics class as a 6th grader at the urgings of his cousin who was in a different middle school’s robotics program.  He said he likes the course because it requires a lot of thinking and coming up with multiple ways to do something in order to find a route to success.  “I’ve learned to never give up, that it’s ok to fail, and not to beat yourself up, just try again with something different,” he shared.

12 years old and in the 7th grade, Benny Ubario came to Robotics thinking it was like video games.  “But I like robotics a lot,” he said, “you never get bored, you make tons of friends, you learn coding, which tells the machine what to do.  I’m going to make prosthetics when I’m older.  We’ve already made an arm that opens and closes.  It was made of wood and Styrofoam.  I feel good about being able to help others.”

Robert Del Greceo, 11 and part of the winning 6th grade team that went to the MESA competition said that he was surprised to see the robots made out of Legos with some metal and wires for the motors.  While getting ready for the competition Robert stayed many hours after school to program the different robots so they could complete the required missions. 

One thing the entire robotics group made clear was that robots aren’t really like their television counterparts.  “They can only do what they are programmed to do,” said Robert,” they can’t really think outside of their programming.”  And knowing that the Kucera Middle School Robotics students are determined to use robots for good to make the world a little safer for all of us.  

The robotics class is always looking for donations of Legos for their classroom.  You can contact Dr. Bryson at rbyson@rialtok12.ca.us.

IECN photo Marina Rojas: Students in the Kucera Robotics classroom.
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