Keanna Tejado, Eunice Doronio, Chanel Ofosu and Patricia Barahona work on a robot. St. Andre's Robo Giants club is headed for Destination Imagination world finals. Photo by Jacklyn Gilmor

Toronto student robotics team headed to world finals

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Catholic Register Special
  • May 7, 2018

Michelle Dubre cried with joy when she heard the news. 

The Inquisitive Minds robotics team from St. Andre Catholic School in Toronto won a spot in the finals of a prestigious international competition called Destination Imagination.

“It was all hope until we found out,” said Dubre, 13. “I felt awesome!” 

Inquisitive Minds is part of a St. Andre’s student club called Robo Giants, which meets regularly to build robots. The team placed second in both regional and provincial competitions this year, but Dubre had no idea the Robo Giants would be chosen to join teams from 14 other countries in the finals, taking place May 23-26 in Knoxville, Tenn. 

The global finals of Destination Imagination celebrate student creativity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as fine arts and community service. 

From a pool of more than 150,000 students who enter a worldwide competition, 17,000 youth representing some 1,400 teams advance to the finals in Knoxville.

“I never thought it would go this far,” said teacher Josephine Di Vona, who started the St. Andre robotics club in 2015. “I’m so proud of them. 

“They’ve done amazing work. They’re engaged and you can see it.”

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Renée Ho and Carmen Lombardi work on Timmy the robot, which has been designed to navigate a maze. (Photo by Jacklyn Gilmor) 

The Robo Giants have met regularly to hone their robotic skills and practice for the competition. That means meeting during lunch breaks, recess, after school and even on weekends. 

The team built a life-sized robot named Timmy that lights up. It has been designed to navigate a maze and end up at a robotic box that will spring open at Timmy’s touch. 

The students will also take the stage with Timmy to perform a skit centred on an anti-bullying theme. For this, they have created their own costumes and sets.

“I’m not allowed to touch anything that they do,” said Di Vona. 

“It’s all student guided and student initiated.” 

Di Vona said teachers can offer advice and ask questions, but the students do everything on their own. That includes all the preparations for the skit and the robot presentation.

She said the students are fundraising to defray the $1,500 cost per-student so that the seven-member team can go to Knoxville. They also need to buy more bricks and robotic kits, Di Vona said. 

Bricks are small devices that control a robot and contain its memory. Right now, the club has six of them. 

A maximum of four students can work with each brick, so having more bricks allows additional students to join the club and build robots. 

“They treat the kits like they’re precious, like a baby,” said Barbara Capano, former vice principal of St. Andre. 

Capano said it’s impressive how the students give up their lunches and recesses and do their own research. “They’re thinking outside the box. They’re thinking, okay, what else can we do?” 

During the competition, Francis Amante, 13, and Carmen Lombardi, 14, will be responsible for controlling Timmy. As the students perform their skit, Amante and Lombardi will use laptops to type in codes that will guide the robot through the maze.

Amante said he already had a background in coding when he joined the Robo Giants, but he is constantly learning new things. “I found that robotics was challenging, so I fell in love with it,” he said.

The club works with a variety of materials, including foam, cardboard and aluminum foil. Nick De Castro, 14, said they even use Lego in many projects. 

“It just explodes your imagination, and you can be really creative, because there are no limits,” he said.

Reaching the finals isn’t the only good news for the Robo Giants. Some younger members of the club are going to the 2018 Skills Ontario Competition May 7-9 in Toronto. They will be asked to demonstrate their abilities in robotics through different challenges.

Last year, the team cracked the top ten, but this year they hope to win, said Di Vona. 

Emma Carneal is among the students building two robots for the Toronto competition. 

“It’s hard, but when you all put your ideas together, it becomes easier,” said the nine-year-old Carneal.

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