Streetsboro -- The robot, about 6 inches tall and 6 inches long, charged forward on a surface slightly smaller than a billiards table. Its claw grabbed a square object containing nine ping-pong balls, then dragged it back inside a 15-inch by 12-inch space.
Success. The robot had completed its task.
It is one of the procedures performed by the Streetsboro Middle School STEM Club, which finished fourth in a statewide Ohio Educational Technology Conference middle school robotics competition Feb. 11 in Columbus. The competition had three 90-second rounds.
The STEM Club is advised by Streetsboro Middle School technology teacher Rich Day and assisted by Gail Hand, a family and consumer sciences teacher at the middle school.
Last year, the team finished second in the state competition.
"Maybe the team was a bit overconfident this year," Day said. "Technology evolves. You have to stay on top of it."
Fourteen STEM Club members, who meet after school, brought four robots with them to this year's competition. In teams of two and three members each, they made adjustments to the robots by using laptop computers.
"The students were forced to think quickly on their feet, modifying and improving their robots as the day went on," Day said. "They enjoy the problem solving and critical thinking. They learn from that."
Each robot looked different and had different tasks, Hand said.
"It's trial and error," Hand said. "You tell the different motors in the robot to do different things. The robots have touch sensors and claws that drag things. The students use a lot of critical thinking skills. They had to calculate the distance of how far the robot needed to go, for example."
Day said it is fun to watch the students' reactions -- including their frustrations -- during the competition.
"They build upon their past and present experiences," he said.
Using grant money from the Streetsboro Educational Foundation and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation to purchase their robot kits, students started building the robots in October, Hand said. She said it took about one month to construct them and another month to program them as they prepared for the state competition.
"It was a very intense competition," eighth-grader Elizabeth Breen said. "When you get there, it's interesting when you get to see all the different ideas people have. You say, 'Oh, I hadn't thought of that.' The competition was like a puzzle. You had to try to figure it out."
"You couldn't get distracted," seventh-grader Alex Miller said. "If you did, you'd lose."
Seventh-grader Jaxson Belsito said the table used in the competition was a lot smoother than the one used at Streetsboro Middle School.
"It was really slick," Belsito said. "It threw us off a little because we needed more friction for the robots."
Eighth-grader Tyler Rickard said she enjoyed the competition.
"I was more involved this year because I understood it better," Rickard said.
"It was really fun to go to Columbus," Breen added. "It was something really special to go with your friends from school."
Day said it is "refreshing" to see girls involved.
"The perception is that robotics is something boys like to do," Day said. "But there is a big demand for females in engineering. I tell the girls, if they're pursuing a field in engineering, the jobs are there. There is a huge demand for females."
STEM Club members who traveled to Columbus include eighth-graders Breen, Rickard, Josh Mayle, Alexis McNeal, Jeremy Grabowski and Skye Groscost, seventh-graders Belsito, Miller, AJ Simon, Chris Cardinal, Kaitlyn Biada, Hayley Dreslinski and Brittany Timko and Crestwood Middle School student David Hand, Gail Hand's son.
Hand, a Mantua resident, said she saw an interest by her son in the STEM Club and asked if there was room for him to participate with Streetsboro because Crestwood does not offer this opportunity and Day agreed to allow him to participate.
Day said the team is hoping to find the resources to participate in a national robotics challenge in April in Marion.
STEM Club is an extracurricular opportunity for students to participate in exploring various science, technology, engineering and math challenges through robotics. Students also build skills in problem solving, critical thinking and team building, according to Day.