Last Friday, students at Monroe Middle School battled each other by proxy at the underwater robot wars.

Since October, two teams of students in the AIM TRIO Talent Search program have been building their own Remotely Operated Vehicles. They have worked with instructors from the AIM Brain Exchange, as well as teachers for Monroe’s Science Club and Tech MashUP, to design and assemble the robots.

In doing so, students have learned about robotics, electronics, construction, design, problem solving, and teamwork.

“It’s been fun to see how their brains work,” said Jon Larsen, an instructor at Brain Exchange. Larsen and Erin Lasiter, executive director of the Brain Exchange, advised both teams on the finer points of robot construction, like soldering and wiring.

Monroe instructor Sherri Strain said students have worked on the robots at least an hour-and-a-half each week for almost the entire school year. Along the way, they’ve built some useful skills.

“They’re doing a lot of things that they didn’t think they’d be able to do: soldering, cutting pipe, all of it,” Strain said. “It was very entertaining for us, just watching that growth.”

The underwater robot wars comprised three rounds: a maneuverability course, a speed trial, and a rescue mission.

In round one, students piloted their robots through three underwater hoops, to flex the robots’ mobility capabilities.

In round two, the robots raced each other to the middle of the pool and back.

The final round was a rescue & recovery mission. Teams used their robots to pick up plastic rings, garden trowels, and rocket ships that were scattered around the bottom of the pool.

While the Science Club’s green robot won all three trials, Tech MashUP’s blue robot won for best design, team unity, and perseverance.

AIM Trio Talent Search Coordinator Shane Barsell said the idea for the project came to him from the annual Council for Opportunity in Education conference, which he attended last year in NYC.

“It’s really exciting to see the students do something different that they wouldn’t usually do in the classroom,” Barsell said.

In addition to the STEM skills they developed, students learned how to persevere—the project took eight months to complete.

The AIM TRIO Talent Search program helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to succeed in higher education. The program provides academic, career, and financial counseling to its participants and encourages them to graduate from high school and continue on to and complete their postsecondary education.

AIM provides free technology education to youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience it. We are helping build a strong, sustainable, and diverse IT workforce locally. Please support our youth-in-tech programs via Omaha Gives.

Underwater robot kits are available from SeaPerch.