Students test their robot-steering mettle

Buzzy Johnson, a third grader at Front Royal Christian School, watches his team's Lego robot score points at a robotics competition on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Third graders at Front Royal Christian School demonstrated their robot-wrangling skills for friends and family at the class’ first robotics competition on Thursday.

Divided into teams of three to five students, the third graders set up their Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 robots on a competing field and let them go. Teams were scored on how well the robot – moving completely on its own – was able to maneuver up and down a ramp five times and knock over a number of plastic balls.

“You have to put the back tires straight to get most of the balls,” said student Lilly Harper.

The kids learned basic operation of the robots during Elizabeth “Liz” Coffey’s IT and robotics class. Lilly said she’s enjoyed building robots in class the most, while her teammate Emily Lunson said she likes the competitive element.

“It’s actually really fun because you never know who’s going to win and who’s not,” Emily said.

While they’ve only been positioning the robots and starting them up so far, Coffey said they’ll start learning how to program their movements and add modifications in the next few weeks. She said the Lego robots serve as a fun and interactive introduction for the students.

“This is the basic design,” she said. “There could’ve been some other designs that maybe would’ve stayed on the ramp a little bit better … but for their very first competition, we kept everybody on the same baseline.”

With an end total of 223 points, the Ice Creams team of Lilly, Emily, Natalie Arbuckle, Tori Henry and Elena Leasure won the overall competition and the prize for the engineering notebook they’ve kept in class. The Night Fury team took away the sportsmanship award and the Hurricanes and the Brains teams tied for the team design award.

Coffey is offering further robotics instruction for tech-minded kids with summer camp sessions through her company, Conquest Technologies and Service. At the robotics camp sessions, she said students will be able to learn how to operate and customize six other robots in addition to the Mindstorm.

She also said she plans to hold similar competitions at the school in future years.

“In the future we’re going to try to either build teams or clubs, we’re going to try to get everybody involved that is interested,” she said. “My goal is to get more sophisticated robots into Front Royal Christian School. We want to go big.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com