Roboducks Portland Robotics

Robotics provides unrivaled hands-on STEM education

“I really like the bonding time you get with people, both with your teammates and while competing. In competition, you get to meet people from all sorts of different countries.” - Gabe Najera; Senior, Edmond North HS

Robotics at Francis Tuttle is probably the closest thing to a team sport you’ll find at the CareerTech center.

Both of the district's teams are based out of the Engineering Academy, but students and instructors from a wide variety of programs contribute to every robot’s success. In the process of building and repairing a better bot, they also gain valuable hands-on experience in many important STEM subjects.

“Robotics is about getting kids excited about engineering and working with new technology,” said Bryan Kitzrow, Chemistry and Pre-Engineering Instructor at the Danforth Campus. “And it’s not as intimidating as it used to be.”

Like state basketball tournaments and baseball, spring is the high time for robotics across Oklahoma. A few weeks ago, many teams started their season at the Green Country Regional Tournament in Tulsa. They will gather again at the OKC Fairgrounds for the Oklahoma City Regional from April 4-6 and try to use their knowledge to make a better bot.

Quacken Robotics Competition Gabe Najera
Gabe Najera with the Quaken's robot at the Green Country Regional Tournament in Tulsa.

Both Francis Tuttle teams – the Roboducks and the Quacken — compete in First Robotics. In January, they learned the requirements for this year’s competition: the robot must drive around an obstacle course and pick up foam rings. It then must be able to shoot those rings into a series of goals.

The robot must also operate autonomously for an assigned period before students can take control for additional tasks. Both teams designed and built their robots over about four weeks in a process that included computer aided design and drafting, engineering, manufacturing, computer science, machining, and even carpentry.

All of these steps involved Career Training Program subjects at Francis Tuttle and collaboration with students who brought in varying perspectives and skill sets.

“Whatever you want to do or like to do, there’s a spot for you on the team,” Nathan Dery, the team captain of the Roboducks, said.

The Roboducks earned the Regional Finalist award at the Green Country Regional, and they were also recognized for their robot’s Autonomous capabilities. On their way to the final round, the Roboducks met the Quacken, where the newest team on the block was knocked out.

As it was their first time, Quacken team members were encouraged by making the playoff round.

“I didn’t expect to make the semifinals, especially since this is our first year,” said Cinthia Clonts, Quacken team member and sophomore from Edmond North High School.

This is her first year to compete in First Robotics. The Quacken team is led by students with some experience, such as Gabe Najera, a senior at Edmond North who was previously part of the Roboducks.

“At first, I just wanted to play with a big robot. But after I joined, I really liked going to competitions and the whole process of building a robot,” he said. “I really like the bonding time you get with people, both with your teammates and while competing. In competition, you get to meet people from all sorts of different countries.”

Roboducks Robotics Portland Practice
The Roboducks strategize during a run-through at the Portland Campus.

Clonts and Dery are both interested in careers involving robotics and autonomous capabilities. This hands-on experience has already helped prepare robotics students for future college and career challenges.

Francis Tuttle is increasing student opportunities to get hands-on STEM experience by having a team at both the Portland and Danforth Campuses. Clonts said any student who has the opportunity should join a robotics team.

“Really, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “You only get the chance to do robotics for a few years. So, I would say spend those years doing this. If you’re going into engineering, this is something you really need to do.”

by Adam Troxtell - April 2, 2024