DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Robotics activity to be buzzing before you know it

All is quiet in Xavier Prep’s new robotics lab as the school year comes to a close.
Quiet for now.
But it won’t be long before all the equipment is up and running again on the southeast part of campus when the 2016-17 school year arrives.
Under the guidance of faculty member Nathan Ward, Xavier finished its first season in 17th place in the Arizona FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). The Gators did not compete in the Arizona Interscholastic Association tournament this year, but plan to do so next year.
Ward said the first year of the Robotics Club as well as classes in the endeavor went well. The club features 12-15 students and the class has 8 to 10.
The lab previously was a storage area that was converted to robotics before the start of 2015-16, complete with air conditioning and plenty of electrical outlets.
From the first week of school to the last, the girls are busy. There is one class, and the club meets twice a week in the afternoon after school.
The lab holds a lot of equipment – “no space goes to waste,’’ Ward said. There are plans to move some of the saws to a patio area just outside the door. Ward said Phoenix Tent and Awning will construct an awning to cover the outside area for protection against the elements and have the saws not create nearly as much dust in the lab itself.
“A lot of our equipment is on wheels,’’ Ward said.
The XCP robotics community also received a grant of $5,000 from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the Diamondbacks School Challenge. A banner hangs on the wall and most of the funds were used for a laser cutter and 16 soldering stations.
The AIA uses the VEX IQ robotic system in which the robots are constructed from kits. The FTC offers a bit more freedom with its robots and the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) features the larger robots that can weigh up to 120 pounds.
“With the FTC, you’re working pretty much with a “blank canvas,’ and the girls seem to like that because they can essentially start from scratch,’’ Ward said.
Ward attended some educational seminars last summer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and is going back for another round this year.
“It was all brand new last year,’’ Ward said. “It was a good gauge of what to do (in regard to education and competition). The first day, I wasn’t sure, but then in the second day, the light kind of came on and I figured things out. Now it’s a matter of filling in some holes. Carnegie Mellon is not about building robots, it’s about programming robots.’’
Most of the students who worked with Ward in 2015-16 will be back again next year.
“I think all of the kids had a lot of fun, and Sr. Joan (Fitzgerald, Principal) was very supportive,’’ Ward said. “Next year, we are going to have some awards where the participants get an “X’ letter, just like people get letters in athletics. We think things will be better next year, and by the third year, that’s when you really take stock in how you are doing.’’

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