Barber Middle School Students Race Underwater Robots, Fly Drones

A team of Barber Middle School eighth graders work together to race their SeaPerch, an underwater remotely operated vehicle.

Before school let out for the summer, students used soldering irons, PVC pipe cutters, and drills to build underwater robots. The Barber Middle School eighth graders built the remotely operated vehicles (ROV) from scratch with the ultimate goal to race them in the school’s first SeaPerch competition. SeaPerch donated the kits that the students used to build their race machines.

Eighth grader Alyssa’s all-girl team navigated their SeaPerch through the aquatic obstacle course in 51 seconds, faster than any of the other teams.

“My role was to hold the battery. I also got to control [the ROV] and drive it. In the competition, there were three rings. We had to go into the rings. We had to go under and over some of the rings. We had to touch the wall in the pool [and go back through the course to finish],” recalled Alyssa.

Alyssa, who is part of a science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) student group at Barber, enjoyed learning about ROVs and how to use the engineering design process as her team took a series of steps to build their underwater robot, problem-solving along the way.

A team of Barber Middle School eighth graders work together to race their SeaPerch, an underwater remotely operated vehicle.

She liked that she had an opportunity to build something that actually worked.

Saundra Watts, the ELA and STEM teacher who helped organize the robotics competition, explained the importance of students working through the design process to build a functional robot.

“A lot of kids don’t know how to have the persistence to keep going when things don’t work,” Watts said. “When we were dealing with our SeaPerch, a ton of things went wrong. For example, the remotes weren’t working. The students had to learn to problem-solve through it.”

The eighth graders were not the only Barber students testing remotely operated vehicles. While the upperclassmen raced robots in an above ground pool, seventh graders in the school’s STEM group practiced flying drones.

“In order to fly them, we had to build them, repair them and use the engineering design process to make them better,” added Jasmine, seventh grade.

In addition to sharpening their engineering skills through the weeks leading up to the race day, the seventh graders also studied drone laws to understand the procedures to follow when flying their drones.

“Because of our amazing Principal Ms. Amlett and the Cobb County School District, we were able to go through a shorter process of getting certified as drone flyers,” Jasmine said with praise. “Because there is a law that we have to be 16 years old or older, we had to keep the drones on school property and make sure they did not interfere with any of the classes or safety.” 

Like her teachers, Jasmine acknowledged the importance of technology in students’ future. That’s why North Cobb High School’s Adam Cogbill visited Barber to see his future students, potential future engineers, in action.

“We have an initiative to try to develop pathways for students from elementary school to middle school to high school,” the North Cobb engineering pathway teacher said. “This seemed like a good place to start to see what they are doing in middle school so we can further advance that at the high school level.”

Cogbill chatted with Jasmine about her experience with drones and is looking forward to having her in his class in a few years.

“These kids are really excited about learning. That’s what it is about. We need to push that enthusiasm,” Cogbill advocated.

Brumby Elementary School recently competed against middle school teams in a state SeaPerch competition. Read about their experience here.

Dive into the underwater competition by watching this video of the Barber event.