You can find them tinkering away in the vocational wing of Appoquinimink High School. They all have similar interests in science, technology and the inner-workings of everyday ojbects. They are Team 1370 "Thermogenesis," Middletown's premier robotics team.
Students on the team, all from the M.O.T./Bear area, work together each year to create an award-winning robot that competes in FIRST robotics competitions, striving to battle other teams in the region and the nation.
According to the Middletown team's web site, FIRST Robotics Competitions are "the varsity sport for the mind, combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology."
The idea behind robotics is to challenge students to work together, problem solve and test themselves mentally, said the team's lead mentor Paul Knight.
"The big benefit is that they learn to work as a team," Knight said. "To have to shoot a Frisbee out of a robot may seem like a monumental task at first, but they learn to take a problem and break it down into smaller pieces in order to come up with a solution."
Gov. Jack Markell made a visit to Appoquinimink High School on Friday to learn just what it is the robotics team is up to and how the program plays into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Students on the team, led by senior Dave Gardner, provided the governor with an inside look at the program and the group's most recent robot.
"We develop our own business plan," Gardner told Markell. "It's student-run, we organize all our data and create a materials list. Aside from the engineering aspect, it also brings in business, finance, imaging and graphic design. It pulls in a lot of various skill sets."
This year, the team's robot will compete in "Ultimate Ascent," which will involve teams (alliances) of three robots that will compete to score as many discs in their goals as they can during a two-minute-15-second match. Students will have to steer their robot, which will shoot Frisbee discs into the air and into their goals.
During the first week of January, students receive the rules of the game, the parameters and ultimately their overall mission. The team is given six weeks to design, build and bag their robot in order for it to be ready for competition, Knight said.
As if the task of building and programming a robot from scratch isn't challenging enough, teams must also raise funds to compete, design a brand and develop a strategy for the game in which their robot will play.
With the help of mentors, all of which have an engineering background or a passion for technology, the students compete against other teams in the region, with the hope of winning banners and college scholarships.
Page 2 of 2 - "What this must take in terms of what you guys must learn, it's very impressive," Markell told the group of about 25 students on Friday.
He encouraged the students to apply what they learn in the program to everyday life and make connections between what they're learning and how it can have an impact on the business market.
Mentor Bill Lydick, a mechanical engineer, said the group has seen its students succeed after high school, which says a lot about the program and its impact.
"All of our seniors have gone to college and pursued technical degrees," Lydick said. "One of our students became an intern with NASA and was involved on the Curiosity project."
The team will participate in its first competition of the year March 15, Knight said.
"This team has what it takes to be successful and they've worked hard to build this robot," he said.