Students, Robots Make “Swimpressive” Showing at SeaPerch
Arkansas 4-H students gathered at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Aquatic Center on March 3 to test their robotics knowledge and teamwork at the 2023 SeaPerch Challenge.
At the competition, hosted by Arkansas 4-H and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, junior and high school student teams steered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) through underwater challenge courses, completed project workbooks and answered interview questions. 61 teams from 12 Arkansas counties competed, as well as two teams from Grenada, Mississippi.
The overall winning junior, senior and open teams will compete at the International SeaPerch Challenge at the University of Maryland on May 13.
Hope Bragg, extension instructor in 4-H youth development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, says the SeaPerch competition “continues to see record growth” as the 4-H students’ engineering skills improve.
“Our 4-H youth amaze me with their skills in engineering, as their robots become faster and more agile underwater,” Bragg says. “As part of the 4-H STEM program, SeaPerch allows our youth to broaden their experience with technology while realizing the real-world application of ideas they have.”
To construct their submersible robots, teams used more than three dozen parts, including pieces of pool noodles, electrical tape, propellers, 12-volt motors and batteries, and PVC pipes. Each team selected 2 members to steer robots through a mission course and an obstacle course. The mission course, designed to simulate space exploration, tested the ROVs’ abilities to pick up and move objects. The obstacle course required competitors to navigate robots through a series of plastic hoops floating at different angles.
Judges evaluated teams’ performances and timed their progress. Teams were also scored on technical reports and engineering notebooks, submitted in advance. Teams were also interviewed by a panel of judges who rated organization and creativity, engineering and design, and presentation delivery.
Bragg says teams were encouraged to “express their unique personalities” by dressing up for their presentations to the judges.
“I saw 4-H students dressed as sea monsters, wearing scuba gear and donning hula skirts,” Bragg says. “These kids made this year’s contest so much fun.”
Staff from the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and from some of Arkansas’ 17 member cooperatives volunteered at the event.
Rob Roedel, director of corporate communications for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, says the organization has partnered with the University of Arkansas’ Cooperative Extension Service for decades to improve the quality of life for Arkansans.
“Working in partnership, the cooperatives and Arkansas 4-H have increased SeaPerch youth participation by more than 600% in five years,” Roedel says. “The SeaPerch program provides an economically efficient STEM-based learning opportunity for students and 4-H members. The program encourages problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, hands-on learning and much more.
“These are skills that are critical in today’s workplace and must be learned, and they can’t all be taught in a classroom.”