Members of the Steel Ridge Robotics team show off a successful paper structure build

Students from Steel Ridge Robotics scribble notes about SpudBot Academy on the classroom whiteboard: activities, experience levels, timing, supplies. Their planning is methodical; in just a few days, theseRidgefield School District high school students will be teaching a large group of 5th to 8th graders. And the supply list so far—painter’s tape and marshmallows, popsicle sticks and blindfolds—makes it sound like a pretty cool camp.

SpudBot Academy is entirely student-led: students teach other students about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The day camps are held a few times each year, giving the high school students an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience—and hopefully inspire some of the younger students to join Steel Ridge Robotics when they’re old enough. 

As they discuss lesson plans for the camp, they choose the kinds of fun, hands-on activities that got them interested in STEAM to begin with: navigating a blindfolded partner through a painter’s tape maze, and building structural towers from paper and marshmallows. Then they build these activities into more advanced applications of logic and skill, like programming Arduinos and designing 3D models with Tinkercad. The project whiteboard is quickly filling up with agenda items, assignments, and additions.

On the other side of the classroom, team members design a specialized bracket to send to the CNC engraver. Mentors stand behind the computer, offering occasional suggestions. But it’s clearly student-led, and they’re figuring it out as they go. They call another team member to get her input; she walks them through the process to get the design correctly configured for the CNC machine in the build lab. It takes a while, but they finally get the CNC machine to work engraving a small piece of steel. The customized part will be an integral part of their next robotics build.

The build lab at Wisdom Ridge Academy is filled with state-of-the-art machinery, including the robots Steel Ridge Robotics has built, in various stages of completion. Each year, they build a new robot for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition. At the high school level, students have just six weeks to design robots that compete to perform specific tasks in an arena. Previous years’ themes have included Steampunk (building a working airship), PowerUp (navigating through environments inspired by video games), and Stronghold (storming the castle). 

Steel Ridge Robotics students won’t learn the theme of the 2023 competition for a few weeks yet. At that point, they’ll take a break from leading SpudBot Academy for a marathon of planning, building, and testing their custom-designed robot. But for now, their main task is to figure out how to keep the attention of a big group of younger students for several hours. They gather again to divide up responsibilities, joking about who the best person is for each task. It’s a learning experience, but it’s also a good time, just like everything they do at Steel Ridge Robotics. 

For more information on SpudBot Academy, Steel Ridge Robotics, and FIRST competition, or to support the team through mentoring or sponsorship, visit www.steelridge6343.com.