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Fairbanks students put their robots to the water test

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Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 12:53 am

FAIRBANKS — It took months to assemble the remotely operated vehicles and their controls, but Friday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center pool, dozens of elementary school students put their robots to the test — underwater.

Students from the Extended Learning Programs of University Park Elementary, Pearl Creek Elementary and Nordale Elementary schools met at the pool to test out their creations. The robots were fashioned from PVC pipes and driven by propellers.

“We had to put a lot of wires together and build the control box,” said Eva Vanover, a sixth-grade student. “The hardest part was the control box.”

The box’s two switches controlled the ROV’s propellers.

Vanover and her partner, Ember Mara, tried to maneuver their robot to a floating ring in the pool.

“Try the other switch — don’t make it do donuts — oh, our propeller is lost!” Mara said.

Vanover and Mara weren’t the only ones to lose propellers to the pool’s depths, but that was why the students brought swimsuits — so they could retrieve them.

It is the second year the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District’s extended learning program has taught the ROV course to its students.

“There’s a lot of learning,” said Cat Albright, program teacher. “They’re troubleshooting and they’re fixing.”

The students learn circuitry, design, basic tool use and more.

But before the students could learn, the teachers had to. Teachers went through an intensive training two years ago.

“Our circuits blew and our propellers fell out in the water,” Amy Noon, University Park teacher, said, identifying with students at the pool.

This year, 10 teachers in the district are teaching their students how to build the ROVs.

At one side of the pool on Friday, three Nordale Elementary boys tried to drive their robot, “X87,” to pick up a floating ring. They were competing with another team for fun.

Jordan Higbee, a fourth-grade student, explained that building their robot came with difficulties.

“The frustrating part was the switches kept going bad and the fuse kept blowing,” he said. The team found out they had a short circuit and the robot was fixed just days before going in the water.

Isaac Hendrickson, a sixth-grade student, held the controls as the ROV’s PVC pipe appendages latched on to a floating ring. The boys caught their competitor’s eyes and raced to a second loop. When they took hold of the second loop, their excitement surmounted.

“We got two! We got two!” they shouted.

Though there were difficulties, students at the Patty Center pool were all smiles.

“It was hard, but it was fun, too,” Hendrickson said.

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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