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Area kids spend two weeks of their summer learning about robots, science

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Erica Dischino / Tribune Quelah Gonzalez, 11, left, and Caitlynn Thompson, 11, learn about cultivating a food share on their laptops Tuesday while Paige Thompson configures a structure at Willmar Middle School. 2 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Maxwell Robnik, 12, and Aaron Jones, 11, control their robots Tuesday in the Willmar Middle School cafeteria. 3 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Students work on robotics projects Tuesday at Willmar Middle School.4 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Bruno Delgadillo, 12, left, controls the robot Tuesday while Alex Borron, 11, watches and Ilyas Abdi, 11, put his arm in the in the claws at Willmar Middle School. 5 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Ava Edberg, 11, holds a “sphero” ball that she can control with a tablet. 6 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Ilyas Abdi, 11, places a tool on top of a tool box while putting together his robot Tuesday with his partners at Willmar Middle School. 7 / 7

WILLMAR — About 50 area kids spent the past two weeks learning how to build robots and using computers to learn about electricity, aerodynamics and bioresearch.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from seven area school districts attended a two-week robots and technology workshop sponsored by the West Central Integration and Achievement Collaborative. The collaborative works to reduce achievement gaps in math.

Seven districts — Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, BOLD, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, MACCRAY, Montevideo, New London-Spicer and Willmar — make up the collaborative. Another program, this one about math, will be held later this month.

The kids worked in the science classrooms at Willmar Middle School. Each of the four classrooms was busy with kids doing different projects.

Kyla Bierwerth and Elizabeth Thyen, both 11-year-old sixth-graders from ACGC, were working to build a robot that would have an arm with a claw at the end. They called it a clawbot.

Midway through the second week, the girls said they were enjoying themselves. "Science is my favorite subject," Elizabeth said. They had worked on STEM projects the week before and moved over to robots for the second week. STEM is science, technology, engineering and math.

When the robot was done, they planned to head to the school's cafeteria to test it out.

Across the room, two boys worked on a project related to electricity. Others worked on another clawbot.

In the hallway, students studying aerodynamics tested out five different paper airplane designs.

A girl used an iPad to control the path of a lighted ball, about the size of a baseball, as it rolled along the floor.

The kids also benefited from mentoring and robot demonstrations from FIRST Robotics team WARPSPEED 4239.

In one classroom, Spencer Schackman, 13, a KMS student going into eighth grade, worked on coding with Isaiah Blaine, 11, and Miguel Garcia, 11, both going into sixth grade. All three said they were glad they had signed up for the program and would do it again. "I think it's cool," Isaiah said.

Willmar Middle School science teacher John Kuznik said the students seemed to be enjoying the program, and he had been, too.

Students were encouraged to sign up for STEM projects that interested them, not to be with friends, he said. It resulted in kids finding projects they loved and meeting people from other school districts.

The collaborative had purchased new software and kits for the different projects, said Brenda Twedt, coordinator. The equipment was quite expensive, she said, and the collaborative is looking at ways to make it available to member districts during the year.

Kuznik said the curriculum and software is impressive and uses some of the latest technology. When he contacted one of the companies with a question, he said, he was told the collaborative was the first in the country to use that software.

School districts save money if the collaborative uses its budget to purchase the costly kids, Twedt said.

The collaborative has paid for transportation for students from their home districts to Willmar and also provides breakfast and lunch for them.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340