Woodlake students gear up for national robotics championship

The projects of the Castle Rock Elementary Woodlake robotics team laid out on a colorful work table in a class room.(Karis Caddell)

Fifth, sixth grade Castle Rock students head to Boston for U.S. Open Robotics Championship to showcase their robotics, engineering skills after successful Long Beach tournament

WOODLAKE – The Woodlake robotics team is engineering a new path to success as they travel to Boston to compete in the U.S. Open Robotics Championships, where they will be up against 102 teams from across the globe.

The team, consisting of fifth and sixth grade students from Castle Rock Elementary, will be in Boston from June 7-9, just after the team’s fourth grade students just returned from a successful tournament in Long Beach on May 31 to June 2. At the competition in Boston, the students will compete in three different categories to test their innovation, research and coding skills against the other teams.

“We’re feeling pretty good about our chances this year. We now know what the expectation is. I think we have a much better chance of landing one of the top 24 (awards),” lead robotics coach Alexandro Castellanoz said.

The team going to Boston this year consists mostly of first time robotics students aside from their captain Khaos Utumapu, who was also on the robotics team last year.

“She’s our captain this year because she knows the ropes, she knows what’s expected out of where we’re going, who we’re going to be up against,” Castellanoz said. “She’s seen the venue. It can be intimidating, but she’s done it, has seen it and been successful there too.”

The other students headed to Boston this year include Evan Rodriguez, Lukas Aguilar, Mateo Marinez, Audrey Rodriguez and Carolina Medina.

The competition has a few different ways the team can win points. One part of the competition is the creation of the team’s robot and coding, which they will be judged on. According to Castellanoz, the team going to Boston is currently working with the 12th iteration of their robot.

“We probably have changed the robot about two more times (since we knew we were going to Boston),” Castellanoz said. “They are always trying to max out points. The whole board is worth 550 points. We were lucky that we scored 300 at this state championship. Now we’re trying to get to 400 and we’re really close.”

Another part of the competition is the 30 minute presentation to the judges. For their presentation, the Woodlake team chose to conduct a skit to make it more engaging and easier to understand. The presentation is based on this year’s theme, which is “Masterpiece.”

“Since masterpiece could mean a lot of things, our fourth grade chose to focus on the culinary arts,” Castellanoz said. “The fifth and sixth grade team, their focus was on a venue that could actually highlight the arts.”

As part of the fifth and sixth grade’s research project, they talked with the city of Woodlake to go through the process of what it would be like to build and engineer a venue/event center for the arts. Castellanoz said they talked to a local musician, the city manager, developer, mayor and other city  officials to understand the ins-and-outs of building a new structure in the city.

“They talked to a musician to find out what a good venue needs. From there, we went to city hall, we talked to the mayor, the city developer from our town, and then we actually started going through the process of actually submitting a proposal to the city for a building,” Castellanoz said.

The students also need to combine the knowledge they have about the theme as well as their engineering skills when they show the judges what their robot can do.

The students have two and a half minutes to show off how they have applied their knowledge by getting their robot to successfully complete 15 tasks on their masterpiece themed board. All of the tasks are somehow related to the Masterpiece theme, such as changing the directions of lights or props on a stage made of legos, or moving a lego movie camera across the board.

Each task earns the students a certain number of points, so the students have been working on improving the efficiency of their robot all year, Castellanoz said. He explained that the kids have been working towards the tournaments since August 2023, when they first got the robotics materials and themes for the year.

In Long Beach, the fourth grade team was able to place in the top three in all of the categories – innovation, alliance and robot game – which they were judged on. Now the fifth and sixth grade team is ready to show Boston what they can do.

“I think one of the reasons this team is so successful is because they’ve never been satisfied with wherever they’re at that moment. They’re always trying to make it a little bit better,” Castellanoz said.

Regardless of what happens at the tournament, Castellanoz said the overall goal is for the program to have a positive impact on the kids long term.

“I hope they go pro,” Castellanoz said. “My hope and aspiration for them is I just want to see them go pro in some kind of field that uses something that they might have even scratched the surface of here. … Becoming a professional engineer is going pro, a professional robot designer, or even just being a professional coder.”

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