Girls from WISD’s elementary and middle schools became “Digital Divas” last month during a robotic workshop series that was held at Waxahachie Global High across three different evenings.

The workshop was organized by Mrs. April Moon (WISD STEM Coordinator), Wyatt Hawkins, and I (Waxahachie Global High seniors).

Students from the Waxahachie Robotics and Engineering NOW clubs helped facilitate the sessions, and Global High’s administration assisted as well.

The participants were split into three groups that were each focused on different robotic systems in order to align the complexity of the systems to the abilities/ages of the participants..

Finch robots were used for first and second graders, LEGO Mindstorms were used for third and fourth graders, and VEX Robotics was used for fifth through eighth graders.

Finch robots are programmed using Snap software’s graphic user interface. While the system is simplified enough for first and second graders to run it, the fundamentals of programming logic are learned. Currently, a number of these robots are on loan to WISD through a STEM grant that Glenna Reisner (WISD librarian) was awarded.

The first and second grade students were given the challenge of navigating their remote-controlled Finch robot through a multicolored maze. The design problem was based on a mouse named Miss Annabelle who needed help finding her cheese. One young participant was very excited about the challenge because she thought there would actually be cheese at the end of the maze, and she wanted to eat it!

The Finch robots have a LED “nose” on the front that is able to light up in different colors. To utilize this functionality, the Divas had to program the nose to match the changing colors of the maze. Dani Jones and Zoe O’Daniel had the best performing robot and were therefore awarded solar powered flowers and given the opportunity to demonstrate their robots at a community showcase.

The showcase was held in the last hour of the final workshop session with the students’ families and several community members in attendance. At the showcase, a slideshow of photos taken throughout the workshop was shown, participants were presented with certificates, and robotic demonstrations / competitions concluded the night.

The Waxahachie Robotics team facilitated the third and fourth grade group. The girls worked in teams to design and build their robots and then used a graphical user interface version of ROBOTC programming (a C based language) to program their robots.

The third and fourth graders were tasked with creating a dance routine for their LEGO Mindstorms robot. They could choose any song they wanted, but they could only play 60 seconds of it for the dance routine. After each team’s robot autonomously performed their routine, Group “Foxy” was named the winner based on the following criteria: creativity, ingenuity, and teamwork. Each girl on the team received a DVD of the Robots movie.

Finally, the fifth through eighth graders were challenged to build a remote controlled vehicle that could help Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz) find her way home by following a yellow brick road to Emerald City. They had a design brief that outlined constraints, such as the maximum and minimum sizes of the vehicle, and criteria (desirables outcomes) were also outlined. For example, the vehicle had to be durable, agile, fast, and aesthetically pleasing.

The fifth through eighth grade girls were given a sample code that they had to download to a robot that they designed and built in teams of three. The team with the most “courage” to think outside of the box earned the “Lion” award, which allowed them to take a specific shortcut along the yellow brick road.

The team with the “brainiest” ideas earned the “Scarecrow” award, and the team that showed the most sportsmanship (had the “biggest heart”) earned the “Tin Man” award. The winning team, the one that finished the race first, was Danielle Dotson (a fifth grader from Clift Elementary), Chloe Ridgway, and Hannah Ridgway (fifth graders from Felty Elementary), who each received a Global High t-shirt. This team’s speed was probably related to the fact that they used six motors on their vehicle! The best part of the race, though, was when the second place team’s robot lost a wheel but finished the race anyways.

Overall, this was the most intense workshop we’ve planned and facilitated this year. We reached a large number of WISD students from a wide range of grades. This workshop was even more special for me because it was a robotics workshop for girls, a population that is underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

At the showcase, Mrs. Moon showed a short video about Debbie Sterling, a woman engineer and the founder of GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a company that makes construction toys that “tap into girls’ strong verbal skills” while building “confidence in spatial skills and giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.” In the video, Ms. Sterling talked about America’s perception that boys are biologically more adept at STEM concepts than girls. However, when tested across the globe, girls outperformed the boys in STEM subjects in most countries but not in the U.S. Her conclusion was that the gender gap is therefore not a result of ability but rather a result of cultural influences.

I feel it was rather fitting, watching that video at our last workshop of the year. It, in a way, reflected the core reason we hold these Engineering NOW workshops. Our purpose, however, isn’t just for girls; it is to inspire everyone who thinks they are not capable of succeeding in a STEM field or who wouldn’t normally consider a career in this area.


Kayla Johansen is a senior at Waxahachie Global High. Johansen (and Hawkins) chose to take on these STEM workshops as part of their engineering capstone project. Ranked No. 1 in her graduating class, on track to complete her Associates in Science degree before her high school degree, serving as President of Global High’s Interact club, and actively volunteering in the community, Kayla is a true leader in WISD! She plans on attending Southern Methodist University and eventually teaching high school math or history.