STATE OF THE ART: Robotics on the Yavapai-Apache Nation

Onica Stout (center) is surrounded by fellow classmates on a Friday morning in the robotics lab at Camp Verde Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Don Decker)

Onica Stout (center) is surrounded by fellow classmates on a Friday morning in the robotics lab at Camp Verde Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Don Decker)

Friday is a day off for Camp Verde Elementary students.

But not for Onica Stout, a 10-year-old fifth grader Yavapai-Apache.

Stout is totally immersed in designing robotics at the school while most of her classmates are at home perhaps watching TV or still sleeping early this Friday morning while the Camp Verde students are gathered in the classroom looking at computer screens and assembling plastic LEGO robots about four inches high.

Stout is the daughter of Helen Stout and Mark Feeling of Middle Verde. Young Stout has two brothers and a sister. Stout's grandmother is Christine Cook of Middle Verde.

"This is the brain of it," says Stout as she points to the center of the robot's chest where the small device is placed after it is programmed on the computer.

Once the robot is programmed it can perform a number of functions on the large table where the pathway of the robot has been laid out to pick up things, to move things or turn in certain directions. All the motions have been preprogrammed by Stout on the computer.

"This is how you control it. It was designed to do this. It's an EB-3."

Stout says she takes the lap top home but the robotics is only done at the school. One can tell that Stout is bound to become a robotic designer as a professional in the future.

Three times per week the small group of students gather in the classroom where the LEGO robots are assembled and programmed to perform certain functions that are designed by the students. Teacher Peggy Dickie brings all of the knowledge with her to the class and begins the task of laying out the lesson plans which engages the students with their own robot. "You have to have good grades to participate in this program," said Dickie. Stout responded to that by saying that she "makes As and Bs but mostly As".

Dickie shows just as much energy as the students when she talks about the Youth Engineering Program. "They have to design these themselves. I can't help them. That's part of the competition, completing the LEGO TREK," says Dickie in reference to the robot that Stout is working with.

"To accomplish certain mission on the table you have to program the robot like to use one wheel or both wheels to spin around," said Stout.

Most of the events at robot meets are timed and points are awarded for all completed tasks.

"I like this class because it teaches you about robots and technology," said Stout who referred to the Mars Rover which is a programmed robot roaming the surface of Mars. "I like it because it's on Mars."

There is a small cable device which is hooked up the robot which downloads the information from the computer by pressing 'start'.

"It's not a remote control robot," Dickie emphasizes. Presently, certain "issues" have to be addressed according to Dickie. "We have to fix the mistakes, if any," said Dickie who knows all of the parts to the robot such as the different sensors. "The students are not allowed to follow books for competition-it has to be their own design," added Dickie.

Stout was called upon to meet with a large corporation that is based in Camp Verde to explore the possibility of funding the school robotic program. Dickie said that Stout stood before the corporate presidents in a meeting room and explained the classroom activities.

The Johnson O'Malley Program (JOM) from the Nation pays for all of the Nation's student's transportation and the associated costs of the activity.

Roberta Quail, JOM tutor, works closely with Dickie in the robotics program. This past summer Quail and Dickie spent a week inside of the Biosphere in Oracle north of Tucson.

"There's a lot of math and engineering involved with this program and it leads to a pathway that leads to scholarships which gets the students ready for college," said Dickie.

(Don Decker is the editor of the Yavapai-Apache Nation's monthly newspaper, Gah'nahvah/Ya Ti')

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