The students gathered in a circle in Ron Boyd’s classroom at Rosemount Elementary School are learning lessons about math and science and engineering. But mostly they’re yelling.


Cheering, really. In this case for a small, wheeled robot they have named Derpy that is squaring off against a similar robot in a black circle drawn on white paper.


The competition, called the sumobot challenge, is part of a new Lego robotics club formed this year at the school. The idea is for the robots, built and programmed by students, to push each other outside of the circle. The first one to cross the line loses.


The club started with a student named Miriam Marks. She wanted to be part of the school’s once-a-year robotics program. When it filled up before she could register, her father asked Boyd whether there was anything he could do to help expand the program. Nathan Marks’ help plus donations from Flint Hills Resources and 3M have allowed Boyd to expand robotics from a one-time deal to an ongoing after-school program.


With volunteer help from Marks and a retired engineer who is volunteering his time Boyd is offering several introductory robotics sessions over the course of this school year and occasional secondary sessions.


Students involved in the club use advanced Lego sets with motors and programmable computers to build their bots, then set them about their tasks. Last week’s sumobot challenge is one of several students will have a chance to take on over the course of the year.


“I think it’s been great,” Boyd said. “We’ve gotten the ability to have a lot of kids have experience with robotics, which is a huge piece right now.


“You’re building. You’re creating. You’re problem-solving. You’re collaborating together.”


So far the club has proved popular. Boyd said there is a core group of about 16 students and 39 who have been involved at one point or another. He would like to do more.

“We’re working on, how can we extend this further?” Boyd said. “How can we help facilitate things for middle school and moving on?”


Making that happen will take volunteer help. The cash donations RES has received allowed the school to upgrade its Lego sets, but Boyd would like to have as many as eight volunteers to work with students.