Ardmore City Schools’ robotics clubs are taking off, and the one at Jefferson just keeps growing.
Students are learning to code in C++ to communicate with their robots and make them perform tasks. The Noble Foundation provided the robots for the district’s robotics programs. All three elementary schools and the high school have robotics in some form. Jefferson teacher Wendell Kennedy said students — mostly third, fourth and fifth graders — are often overwhelmed at first, but quickly pick up the skills.
“At first, they’re like ‘I don’t think I can do this, Mr. Kennedy,’ and then a couple weeks in they start figuring things out,” Kennedy said. “Pretty soon, they’ve finished a challenge and it’s amazing to them.”
“Challenges” can be anything from making a robot retrieve an item and deliver it to a set spot to making a robot perform dance moves.
“It’s fun, but you need to pay attention to what you’re doing,” fifth grader Taytum Smith said.
The club will work to solve as many of the challenges as they can before their botball tournament on April 7, where they’ll need to recreate their results.  Kennedy said his team will likely have 20 or more prepared for the competition, though teams only need to complete 10 to win a trophy.
“Elementary is a little different,” Kennedy said. “In middle school, they make their own robots and it’s a very different competition. Here, it’s more about
learning how to program.”
One challenge requires students to program a robot to collect cans and move them back behind a designated finish line. Monbrai Curry made long arms out of pencils for her team’s robot to make the process faster.
“We tried a really long program, but it took too long,” she said. “We decided to try this, and it worked.”
Another challenge involves programming the robot to move around a mat and deliver pieces of paper to the right spots.
“There’s a lot of math involved,” fifth grader Janiyah Reed said. “It’s not really about math, it’s about estimating. Mr. Kennedy taught us there’s not really a ‘right’ code. All robots are different.”  
The Junior Botball tournament has tutorials available online that Kennedy uses to teach the basics, like how to “tell” the robot where to go through code.
“Then, they have to put it all together to make the program work,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said each robot costs about $800, and students are extremely careful with the devices.
“They all know to hold it with two hands,” he said. “They’ll even catch me and say, ‘You’re holding it with one hand Mr. Kennedy!”
Kennedy’s wife, Jerry Kennedy, teaches the robotics club at Charles Evans Elementary and their daughter, Amber Kennedy, teaches the same club at Lincoln.
He said last year’s club only had five members by the end of the year, but this year started with 20 robotics students and has continued to grow.