Rocky Fork Enterprise

Gahanna to host International Robotics Challenge

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Robotics could be used in all areas of life.

That's one point Gahanna Lincoln High School science teacher Fred Donelson wants to get across to his students and the public.

Donelson, Science Academy coordinator, is a recipient of a $3,500 privately funded initiative through the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation for authentic robotics-challenge events with local and Chinese students in early February and this summer.

He's most excited, he said, about the International Robotics Challenge that will be held Monday, Feb. 4.

"Essentially, we will be putting seven teams of students together (Chinese and American), and they will compete in a robotic challenge," he said. "They will be assigned various tasks to do with robots, and then they will spend the day designing, programming and then competing with these robots at the end of the school day."

Donelson said he's excited about the activity, especially because it will put two cultures together in teams where they must work together and cooperate.

"It will be interesting how they interact with each other," he said. "China and America are two of the biggest economies in the world. We hope this will help kids understand they are just like us."

Gahanna senior Austin Buck said he's excited about the challenge. He's a student in Donelson's space-technology class for two hours every weekday.

"I like the chance to meet new people, especially new people from around the world," Buck said. "I think it would be great for all students to meet those from other countries.

"They have different teaching styles," he said. "It will also be a great asset to get their points of view."

Buck said he feels honored to participate in the challenge.

"This class took me from being a regular student and forced me to think outside the box," he said. "You're given a task and materials to use. You figure out how to use the materials you've got to solve a problem. When you look back, you don't realize what you were capable of. The goal is to get you to think about other ways to problem-solve."

Junior Emily Merickel saw some of the robots Donelson's former class had made at a symposium.

"I saw them working on the robots and saw them doing underwater robotics," she said. "I took the class, and I love it. I'm in the underwater-robotics club."

She said she thinks it would be "really cool" to meet students from a different culture and work with them on projects.

"This isn't just taking notes but hands-on experience," Merickel said. "You apply your knowledge. It makes you think."

Prior to the Feb. 4 challenge, Donelson said, the first activity will be the annual Gahanna Lincoln High School Science Academy Symposium, to be held from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1.

Science Academy students will compete in a poster and an oral presentation competition with their independent research projects.

This year, Chinese students also are bringing posters and will display with Gahanna students.

"This will be a first to have international students working with ours during a symposium," he said.

Donelson said the February activities would be held around the time of the Chinese New Year, and the Chinese students will stay with host families.

It will involve all Gahanna high school students who are involved in the Chinese language program and robotics, he said.

"We'll have a party on Friday night, and they will get to know each other as kids," he said. "Then they will be scientists working together. That's what makes this a lot of fun for them.

"We've never had teams work together," he said. "We're real excited about it. We feel like we are on the cutting edge."

Later in the year, Donelson said, he would like to include an arts unit, with students making a mechanized puppet show using robotics.

"We anticipate using a class from our drama department to field-test this concept in late winter or early spring, and then perhaps some of those same students would help during summer camp," he said. "There is definitely enthusiasm and a commitment between the drama department and the Science Academy to spread robotics into this area."

Donelson said he hopes drama students would get involved with robotics for productions.

"That's a long-term goal," he said. "That would be cool."

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