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Curtiz Johnson, Aiden Streed and Connor Baker put their heads together, trying to figure out how to attach a crane with moving claws to the rest of their robot.

In the next few weeks, they will learn to program that robot – built from a VEX IQ Robotics Challenge kit – to move and perform specific tasks.

The three Peterson Elementary School sixth-graders are among 24 fifth- and sixth-graders participating in Peterson Panther Robotics. All students are divided into teams and are tasked with designing and building a robot to compete and work with other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.

This spring, the team plans to compete in a VEX IQ Challenge robotics tournament. The purpose of the club is to introduce STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts to the students as well as teach them skills in communication, teamwork and leadership.

Some of the first challenges are communicating with their teammates and learning how to fail.

This is the first year of robotics for Johnson and his teammates and he said the team struggled at first. “We’re new at this so we were surprised we could make this,” he said. “It was pretty hard, but fun … we had our ups and downs.”

Those ups and downs are a valuable part of robotics, said Laura Nickerson, Peterson’s robotics club advisor and Mazama High School’s STEM&M and robotics teacher.

“They struggle with failure, and in robotics you fail a lot,” she said. “But finally, if they keep at it, it does work. The engineering process, kids think it should work right the first time. But you have to try different things. … It’s about working past obstacles.”

Nickerson formed the club at Peterson Elementary School last year, and in its second year, Peterson Panthers Robotics is the only elementary club in the Klamath County School District. Club members, who need a teacher recommendation to join, meet after school once a week for about 90 minutes. Similar to high school robotics, club members face a new challenge each year.

“We’re trying to develop a strong feeder program,” said Nickerson, who advises the Mazama High School robotics team and is in charge of Mazama’s STEM&M programs. Brixner Junior High School also has a robotics club.

At a meeting last month, students tested their robots on a course similar to what would be used during a tournament. Their robots have to pick up objects and place them in specific spots to earn points.

After testing her team’s robot, Joyce Johnson fiddled with its claw, using additional pieces from the kit to add weight. “It wasn’t heavy enough to lift (the object),” she explained. The hardest part so far, she said, has been getting the robot’s motor to work correctly.

She paused, then turned to one of her two teammates, “Brooklyn, can you help me?”

For more on Peterson Panther Robotics, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/petersonrobotics.