The Winter Olympics may be underway in Beijing but another Olympic competition is happening closer to home.
This month, Rutland Intermediate School is playing host to the Ozobot Winter Olympics, featuring robots programmed by students.
As part of the project, students in grades 3 and 4 spent the last several weeks learning how to program tiny robots, called ozobots, and designing a miniature Olympic village where the machines can compete in four events: luge, figure skating, curling and downhill skiing.
Ozobots can be programmed in two ways. They can use sensors to follow lines drawn by students, or their actions can be controlled using coding software. Once programmed, the ozobots will execute simple commands, like changing speeds, spinning and even zigzagging between flags on the slalom course designed by students.
Technology instructor Adam Brua, said the project was student driven from the start.
“Most of what you see here is all their ideas, from what materials we used for the crowd to the rink to how we were going to construct the downhill slope,” he said.
Greg Styles, technology instructor at Rutland High School, helped put some of the finishing touches on the village by making a large set of Olympic rings and a 3D-printed tri-level podium where the robots are awarded their medals.
Brua said the project gave students an introduction to computer coding and programming.
They also got to apply language and speaking skills by writing summaries of the various events and hosting demonstrations for other classes at RIS.
Fourth grader Aleah Davis said she was grateful to work on such a unique project, noting that not all schools have such opportunities.
“I’m really happy that we get to do these things at school,” she said.
Jose Burgos, another fourth grader, said he enjoyed seeing the project come together, but noted it was a challenge getting there.
“Coding is not easy,” he said.
Fourth grader Layla Risen agreed, saying there was a lot of trial and error.
“The hardest part was coding (the ozobots) to go around everything,” she said.
Risen said programming the robots to ice skate took her four days to finish.
Brua commended the class for sticking with it.
“We learned a lot about perseverance, working through those mistakes,” he said. “Teamwork and communication was a huge part of this.”
Brua credited the RIS Parent Teacher Organization with helping to make technology initiatives like this available to all students by purchasing additional ozobot sets.
“Every student is having experience with coding and with ozobots thanks to the PTO,” he said.
Classroom teacher Jane Richards complemented the project with lessons on Olympic history. Students have been researching events and participating countries which they will be compiling into a slide presentation and eventually a book.
“We’ve done a lot of writing and reading and there’s a lot of group work,” she said. “That’s been one of the greatest things to see is the teamwork that’s come out of it.”
Davis added that working together as a group helped her get to know her classmates better.
“When you don’t know someone and then they’re on your team, you can get to talk and laugh,” she said. “All the team work was fun … because everyone was working and they tried their best to do this.”
The project, Richards said, also provided opportunities for students to focus on an aspect that was of particular interest to them, whether it was coding, designing the village or researching and writing.
She said projects like this, which take students outside of traditional classroom lessons, leave a lasting impression.
“It’s not that math lesson that we had that day, it’s the creative projects that we get to do with our friends. And it’s the impact that we get to have on the greater school community,” she said.