Finding a new gear: Pima Butte Robotics team finds early success


Designing, building, tearing down, redesigning – Melvin Mitchell’s students are not resting on their laurels.

In their first year competing, the robotics team at Pima Butte Elementary School received the award for best engineering design in their first Vex Robotics competition in November. They placed third overall out of 10 teams.

Even with the winning design they came up with in the event, they have been busy improving their concept under the guidance of Mitchell and parents Michael Gray and Roger Maidman.

The team qualified to compete in the state Vex Robotics contest on Feb. 28 at Arizona State University.

“They are working on the gear ratio, which will ultimately make the robot faster,” Mitchell says. “They’re changing gears, bigger to smaller, and changing wheel size.”

Maricopa Unified School District has four schools with robotics teams, including Maricopa, Pima Butte and Saddleback elementary schools and Maricopa High School. Maricopa Elementary started it with a team last year. This year, the MES robotics squad advanced to the state competition with Pima Butte.

“It’s amazingly fun,” says Charlee Hyde, one of Mitchell’s students.

Kailey Conner says she joined the team to meet new people and try something different: “I thought it would be interesting.”

Other team members, like Rylan Gray, are old hands at the basics. “I like the fun of building pieces,” Rylan says. “I’ve been doing this for three or four years.”

The idea of robots sparked the interest of many of the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. “I’ve always wanted to build robots,” Mason McCowan says.

Though joking she only joined the team because her father made her, Maliyah Mitchell conceded the science was fun.

For the first competition, “We kept it simple with the Clawbot,” Mitchell says.

***ADVERTISEMENT***While other robots in the competition were bigger or faster, they were not as steady as the winning design. Finding the balance of speed, agility and strength is the challenge.

Maricopa Robotics is a Maricopa Ak-Chin STEAM Foundation program. The foundation is sponsored by Electrical District No. 3, Harrah’s Ak-Chin and the Ak-Chin Indian Community.

The STEAM Foundation’s Science City with interactive booths and science activities will be at the Maricopa Salsa Festival on March 28. It is an Arizona SciTech event in partnership with STEAM, the City of Maricopa and MUSD.