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Middle school after-school SeaPerch programs take flight

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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It's one thing to build and program a robot to move on land, but it's something else to a build a machine to do that underwater.

Both Cheney and Westwood middle schools recently started another year of their SeaPerch after-school programs.

According to its website, SeaPerch is a program that equips teachers and students with resources to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle — ROV. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.

The program also provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics while building their ROV.

Students use power tools such as a drill and a soldering iron to build their ROVs.

Both Cheney SeaPerch adviser Caleb Kenison and Westwood adviser Karen Runyon allow students to work at their own pace while helping them when they need it.

"It's a lot of fun seeing them working together and changing the design of their ROVs," Kenison said. "We give them free reign and watch them accomplish these tasks and see what they come up with."

In both clubs, students break up into 3-4 groups and create their machine. Westwood eighth-grader Adrian Cleaver participated in last year's SeaPerch program. Being an older-student, he encourages team building and gets a chance to share the knowledge with his classmates.

Cleaver said there are many modifications students make when building their ROVs, such as drilling the right amount of air holes into PVC pipes to allow it to breathe without having it float or sink. Adding pink pool-noodle type floats helps tighten up the frame and mounting a camera on the ROV to helps control it under water.

"When your ROV is under water, you almost can't see (what you're doing)," Cleaver said. "The water is moving in different directions. You also have to use waterproof gel on the propellers on the ROVs motors to move it back and forth so it can cut through the water."

Teams will also put together circuit boards for their ROVs, which Cleaver said "It's like gluing pedals back on a flower."

CMS student Beckett Schoenle-ber said his group will use a 3-D printer to make a hook to grab the rings. This is his second year in the program.

"It's fun to hang out with your friends and come up with new ideas and concepts," Schoenleber said.

Both Cheney and Westwood will enter the 2016 Inland Northwest SeaPerch Challenge at the Eastern Washington University pool, Feb. 27. In the competition, teams will use their ROVs to navigate an underwater obstacle course in one event capture and transport orbs into a bucket in another. There is also a poster and presentation where students will share what they learned while building their ROV. The winners from the challenge will advance to the Sixth National SeaPerch Challenge, May 20 - 21, at the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Last year the CMS "Team Water Squirrels" qualified for the national competition in Boston.

Al Stover can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: January 14, 2016

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