Robots invade Dalton Intermediate School

Dalton Joyce (left) watches Alia Saunders construct a robotic arm for the class project. (Photo by Shelby Vasko)
Dalton Joyce (left) watches Alia Saunders construct a robotic arm for the class project. (Photo by Shelby Vasko)

RADFORD — Dalton Intermediate School has created a new robotics team, Rockin’ R Robotics. Students may now explore programming, 3-D creation and building robots during the school day.

Jennifer Eller, a technology teacher at both Dalton and Radford High School, has been trying to start a robotics team for years similar to the Tuxedo Pandas, a longer-running team based in Montgomery County that will travel to China this month for a competition. Eller hopes to produce similar success in Radford.

“I’ve wanted to do robotics here for a while. I though it would incorporate the STEAM concepts needed,” Eller said.

Dalton created the course at the beginning of the year as a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) class. Eller decided recently to use the time for the robotics team.

“I like that it gives middle school students more aspects of STEAM before they get to high school,” Eller said. “Middle school is ultimately the place where career preparation begins. I also want them to have fun. I want them to look forward to their last robotics class of the day. It will keep them coming back. This class isn’t all about the grades. This gives them pride to see their parts of the project come to life.”

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Robo2: The eighth-grade robotics class at Dalton Intermediate School includes: (front row, from left) Alia Saunders, Brandon Crowder, Sam Moore; (second row) teacher Jennifer Eller, Katelynn Wilson, Dalton Joyce, Alex Howard, volunteer John Keesee; (back row) volunteer Doug Conner, Patrick Weltens and Ben Cox. Not pictured are Madison Pierce, Mackenzie Farmer and Drake Hodge.
The eighth-grade robotics class at Dalton Intermediate School includes: (front row, from left) Alia Saunders, Brandon Crowder, Sam Moore; (second row) teacher Jennifer Eller, Katelynn Wilson, Dalton Joyce, Alex Howard, volunteer John Keesee; (back row) volunteer Doug Conner, Patrick Weltens and Ben Cox. Not pictured are Madison Pierce, Mackenzie Farmer and Drake Hodge.

According to eighth-grade student Katelynn Wilson, the team teaches her skills that she will use in the future.

“It’s getting to where technology is becoming more and more useful,” Wilson said. “Robots are doing more things for us, and we need to be able to build and repair them.”

Thinking ahead to college, Alia Saunders believes robotics courses and teams will help.

“If you want to do engineering, it’s important to take these classes,” Saunders said.

The team will showcase its robot during its first competition on Jan. 9. The robot is built to pick up objects and carry them across the room. A real-world application could involve a robot transporting dangerous materials.

“There’s a satisfaction to seeing them build something hands-on,” Eller said. “It lets them see that it’s possible. They can build things for people who can’t perform basic tasks themselves. It shows them that it’s not so scary. I hope this is a springboard for the kids to show them that they can do anything.”

When Eller first expressed a desire for a robotics team, she began searching for funding. She found help everywhere. To start-up the class, she needed more than $2,500 for materials. The Tuxedo Pandas gave the team a $1,000 grant to start the Radford team. Volunteers from Kollmorgen, an engineering firm in Radford, offered the students free instruction. When Eller’s mother passed away last year, her wish was for visitors to donate to Radford City Schools in her memory to start a robotics course. Eller still hopes to raise funds for a 3-D printer.

“It’s nice that my mom was a part of this,” Eller said. “Our first T-shirt design will have her name on it.”

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