Stella Maris students embracing robotics



By Ron Giofu


Students at Stella Maris School have embraced robotics, albeit at different levels.

There are about 15 students in the “Wonder League” group while the First Lego League (FLL) team has about ten members. Wonder League is a beginner league with pre-built robots known as “Dash” and “Dot” that students have to program to perform tasks.

“This is the junior version,” explained teacher Deanna Way. “It’s beginner code.”

The First Lego League team has about ten members, ranging in age from 9-14.

Ella Renaud, April Quimby and Molly Parks test out their robot as they are on Stella Maris School’s First Lego League team.

The Wonder League students use a mat in the hallway that is divided into grids. Student Micah Moore explained last Thursday that their task was trying to move a group of paperclips through the grid and have them land on a space labelled E8.

Sarah Shudaifut said she enjoys Wonder League as it allows her to use her brain and figure out what do do to solve a problem.

Way said it is the first year Stella Maris has had a Wonder League team and that it is a lot of “trial and error” thus far. She noted the students have been coming in most lunch hours for the past three months and working together.

“We’re hoping they will continue to like it and get involved in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math programs,” she said.

Christine Parks oversees and coaches the FLL team and noted they came in seventh place in a recent competition.

“We are currently the only First Lego League robotics team competing from Amherstburg,” she said.

Members of Stella Maris’ “Wonder League” team include (front) MIcah Moore, (middle row) Makayla Clarke, Sarah Shudaifat, Felicia Fox, Lily Laur, Helayna Fevreau and (back row) Steven Craner, Brie Sieben, Lucas Boudreau, Luca Fiorito, Kylie Thepvongsa, Alivia Piper and Cohen Sieben.

There were groups of students building robots out of Lego pieces, while others devised programs. Others drove their robots on a track. Parks said they also talk about co-operation and competition during their lunchtime sessions.

“We win by helping each other,” she said.

The FLL team at Stella Maris are the “Raybots,” a play off the school’s “Stingrays” nickname, and Parks noted they are preparing for their second season. She also pointed out the importance of STEM and said they are “engulfed” in it already.

“It’s amazing what they can do when they experience STEM early,” said Parks.

WiredCats getting geared up for another robotics competition


By Jonathan Martin

The Villanova WiredCats are gearing up for another robotics competition.

The high school robotics team held its annual open house last Saturday, where the public was granted a glimpse into how this year’s robot is coming along.

Each year, the WiredCats participate in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, an international robotics sporting event. Teams of youths have six weeks to raise funds, build a brand, then program and construct a robot to play a predetermined field game against their international peers.

The two-year-old WiredCats placed tenth in the FRC World Robotics Competition in St. Louis last year and earned the Rookie All-Star Award the year before, which landed them a spot in 2016’s worlds, too.

“It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow when we don’t make it (to the world championships),” said WiredCats founder Stacey Greenwood. “But this year, I feel like we’ve found our groove.”

The WiredCats are made up of 37 students broken down into five sub-teams: mechanical, design, electrical, business and programming. Greenwood said over the past three years, the WiredCats have figured out how to synergize the sub-groups and streamline their productivity.

Grade 11 student Erica Rossi has jumped between sub-teams during her three-year tenure. In grade nine and 10, she worked with the robot’s programming. This year, she has jumped over to the electrical sub-team. She said she views the structure of the robotics team as an opportunity to expand her knowledge-base.

“I’m getting closer to Grade 12,” she said. “So I wanted to use this as a chance to learn a bit more about the different fields of engineering.”

Greenwood estimates around 70 per cent of WiredCats continue on to post-secondary STEM fields. With a student membership that’s 35 per cent female, 12 percentage points higher than the national rate of women who graduate from engineering programs, she counts that as an achievement.

“One of my biggest concerns has always been getting women into STEM,” she said. “We tend to lose them around sixth grade, so we do a lot of outreach at the local grade schools.”

Rossi said the WiredCats have given her the confidence to continue on into the male-dominated world of engineering.

The Villanova Wiredcats work on their robot at an open house last Saturday.

“Being a girl in STEM, I am the minority,” she said. “On this team, however, I don’t feel like it. Everybody works together and you don’t see the division.”

Rossi added that the team’s 15 mentors, who, according to Greenwood, are around 65% female, work hard to make sure every student feels involved and invested in the project.

Bob Hedrick is one of the team’s mentors. He helps the students develop the software that allows the robot to complete its tasks.

“In music class, the kids get to hold concerts,” he said. “In gym, they have sports tournaments. In drama, they have plays. In science and math, there’s really not all that many chances to apply what they’ve learned. This program gives them the chance to see the real-world application of the theory they’ve learned in school.”

At the WiredCats’ open house, prospective Villanova students got to check out those applications. Greenwood said she hopes the open house will allow her to continue growing the team, making an impact and allowing girls to explore their STEM side.

The WiredCats will be competing in Windsor March 30-31, in London April 7-8, in Mississauga April 11-14 (assuming they qualify for the provincial championships) and, if they qualify for the world championship, will be in Detroit from April 25-28.

A-Team Robotics wins award at Durham College event



By Ron Giofu


The newly formed A-Team Robotics group has managed to pick up a major award in their first year together.

The robotics team, which meets at Centreline’s plant within the former SKD building, captured the Rookie All-Star award at FIRST Robotics’ Durham College event earlier this month. The robot that A-Team Robotics had to construct had to perform three tasks, with those tasks including climbing a four-foot rope, put a gear on a peg and put balls into various chutes.

Allan Parks, one of the coaches and mentors to the team, said the project all competitors had to work on was released Jan. 7. The teams had the same parameters and budget in which to work from but each team could devise how they would create their robot to meet the parameters.

The A-Team Robotics group won the Rookie All-Star award at the recent Durham College event. The team is based out of Centreline’s Amherstburg facility, located in the former SKAD building. (Special to the RTT)

The A-Team Robotics group won the Rookie All-Star award at the recent Durham College event. The team is based out of Centreline’s Amherstburg facility, located in the former SKAD building. (Special to the RTT)

The team is still fairly new, having only been created in October. Parks said most of the team is in Grade 9 and thought General Amherst High School would have its own team. When that fell through, A-Team Robotics was formed.

“When the school couldn’t commit to a team,” said Parks, “I decided to start a team myself.”

Centreline offered to let the team use part of their Amherstburg facility and the team meets there Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings as well as on Saturdays. That increases to seven days per week as competitions near.

The Durham College Event was the A-Team’s first big competition but not their last.

“The kids did amazingly well,” said Parks.

Parks said the team didn’t act as if it were a first year team as everyone they encountered in Oshawa thought they were experienced competitors.

“I was blown away by the maturity of this young team,” added coach/mentor Jeremie Bornais.

Bornais added he was impressed by the leadership of the mentors as well and also acknowledged the support of the community.

“It shows the support we have in Amherstburg and as a group,” said Bornais.

Comments heard at the Durham College event were that the team’s maturity outweighed their years, Bornais added.

Parks added the teams help each other out at FIRST Robotics events and it was no different for the A-Team Robotics group, as they assisted other teams as well.

The team had a budget of roughly $24,000 for the competition and they helped fund themselves by obtaining sponsorships. In addition to building the robot, they have to create a business plan and help market themselves through social media.

Parks believes robotics gives kids a head start in life as they learn about design, business, social media, technology and trades. They do everything from machining their own tools to writing the Java codes to run the robot.

“A lot of kids were starting from square one,” said Parks. “It’s giving them the skills they can use later in life.”
Parks said the students can compete for the jobs of tomorrow with the skills they are learning today and that robotics teams gives them real world experience at an early age.

The team currently has nine members “which is small by most team’s standards,” said Parks.

“We started from scratch,” he added, noting all but one of them is in Grade 9.

Members of A-Team Robotics work on their robot during the FIRST Durham College event held recently in Oshawa.

Members of A-Team Robotics work on their robot during the FIRST Durham College event held recently in Oshawa. (Submitted photo)

Team members include Adam Tronchin, Cassidy Zelle, Justin Bornais, Justin De Bont, Max Beadow, Mackenzie Parks, Kurtis Paquette, Ryan Harris and Devin Paquette. Coaches and mentors, other than Parks and Bornais, include Dan Paquette, Wanda Coull de Bont and Ludi de Bont.

“It feels good,” Tronchin said about winning the award. “We worked hard to win it.”

“I think we actually placed really well for a rookie team,” said Zelle.

Harris said he helped drive the robot and admitted he was nervous before doing it but the nerves wore off as he drove the robot in the competition. He added he was excited at the end of each round.

Tronchin pointed out they are learning skills for jobs down the road with Harris agreeing. Harris added the leadership from the mentors proved to be valuable as well.

“I really just enjoy everything I do. It’s a lot of fun,” added Zelle. “The people are great. You just have a great time.”

Justin Bornais said he didn’t know what some of the tools were beforehand and now has learned to use them. He said the experience on the robotics team has really been worth it.

“I really think new people would enjoy robotics as much as I do,” said Justin, adding they owe a lot to the sponsors, mentors and Centreline.

“The commitment is worth it,” added Harris.

Zelle said she enjoys coming to robotics and looks forward to coming.

“I always enjoy coming here and I want to come back,” she said.

The team competes next at the Windsor-Essex Great Lakes Event at the University of Windsor March 30-April 1. They hope to make it to the Ontario Championships, which will be April 12-15.

For more information on A-Team Robotics, visit their website They can be found on social media as well, with their Twitter account being @a_robotics, their Facebook page being and their Instagram account, which is a_team_robotics.

Villanova, St. Bernard team up on robotics project


By Ron Giofu

St. Bernard School got a little help on their Lego robotics project from a team well versed in robotics projects.

The robotics team at St. Bernard received assistance last Thursday from the “WiredCats,” the robotics team from St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. The “WiredCats” went to the world championships in St. Louis to compete recently and brought their expertise to St. Bernard to allow the younger students to be able to program their own robot.

The St. Thomas of Villanova "WiredCats" robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter's robotics team.

The St. Thomas of Villanova “WiredCats” robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter’s robotics team.

Eleonora Vitella, a Grade 5 teacher at St. Bernard, said there are about 13 students ranging from Grade 4-7 on the team. They built the robot with the Villanova students helping them to get it to do what they want. The robot is operational, she said, now it is more of a programming matter.

“I had gone to a workshop and brought the info back to the school and, with student interest, created a team,” said Vitella.

About nine students from the “WiredCats” came to St. Bernard to assist. Vitella said it was nice to have the involvement of the high school students.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

“It’s nice to have extracurricular activities for students to learn at,” said Vitella. “Hopefully it helps them in their future careers.”

The “WiredCats” includes 28 St. Thomas of Villanova students.

Villanova robotics team headed for the world championships in St. Louis


By Ron Giofu

Though the robotics team at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School didn’t make the playoffs at the FIRST Robotics Great Lakes regional competition, they still found a way to advance to robotics world championships.

The Villanova WiredCats – a play off their school’s “Wildcats” nickname – captured the rookie all-star award at the April 6-9 regionals at the University of Windsor and ensured a trip to the world championship in St. Louis in the process. The team features 28 Villanova students, 11 females and 17 males, with team member and Grade 9 student Lily Jacobs calling it the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

The St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team - aka "the Villanova WiredCats" - are heading to St. Louis later this month for the world championships. (Special to the RTT)

The St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team – aka “the Villanova WiredCats” – are heading to St. Louis later this month for the world championships. (Special to the RTT)

“I think I cried the hardest,” added Grade 12 student Kathleen Beach.

Dan Cordeiro, another Grade 12 student, said they were “bummed out” about not making the playoffs at regionals but were elated to win the rookie all-star award.

“Everything worked out,” said Jacobs. “The positivity we had was just outstanding.”

Judges not only evaluated each team’s robot, including Villanova’s “Patches” robot, but interviewed team members, looked at the support each team had, their social media presence and looked at the whole operation.

“We all work together really well,” said Cordeiro.

Beach added there are a variety of different age levels with students from Grade 9-12 involved with the WiredCats. She said there are five “sub-teams” with mechanical, programming, design, electrical and business teams comprising the overall group.

“Patches” is known as a “retriever robot” but is now being worked on further in preparation for worlds with changes being made, some of which includes its ability to lift gates and objects. There is a medieval theme that is also part of the championships, with team members also crafting chainmail out of pop tabs.

Matthew Dunne and Connor Ajersch work with pop tabs as part of Villanova's robotics team's creation of a chainmail vest for their robot.

Matthew Dunne and Connor Ajersch work with pop tabs as part of Villanova’s robotics team’s creation of a chainmail vest for their robot.

The world championships are April 27-30 and while they obviously want to do as well as they can, Beach added they “want to make it crazy and big and be the best team we can be.”

The WiredCats have also developed friendships along the way, including trading buttons and pins from teams from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, southwestern Ontario and even a team from Poland. They have also become mentors to younger students and are using their team to help attract prospective students to Villanova.

“Our team is busy non-stop trying to leave positive messaging,” said Beach, who plans to return to Villanova with Cordeiro as mentor to the team after the graduate.

“We are hoping to inspire others,” added Jacobs.

The WiredCats, also known by their team number of 5885, also had a member possibly make the FIRST Dean’s List. Alex Drazilov, who is the head programmer, was named to the list as a finalist.