Students use STEM at underwater robotics contest to solve real-life challenges

Friday , March 09, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

OGDEN — Hundreds of elementary, middle and high school students competed Thursday at the SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Competition where they had to achieve a complicated goal: retrieving underwater bacteria.

The competition — which took place Thursday, March 8, at Weber State University — brought together about 400 students from Weber, Davis and Ogden school districts.

Matt Patterson, Weber School District STEM coordinator, said the competition mirrors real-life events in which students must apply STEM skills in order to solve a problem.

This year, students had to control their underwater robots to open a door made out of PVC pipes and retrieve certain objects from the water. The objects were meant to symbolize bacteria.

“There is science involved, and some engineering, some mathematics,” Patterson said. “It’s things that happen here in Utah with our lakes.”

Students built their own robots out of plastic pipes, pool noodles and small motors, which allowed the robots to move underwater.

Madison Thayn, an eighth-grader at Wahlquist Junior High, said a better version of her robot could be used in real life.

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“The part we had trouble with was buoyancy,” Thayn said. “Maybe if it was more better people who go down in the ocean, like Navy Seals, can use it.”

Thayne and her two teammates — Rut Pichardo and Haylee Cope — said they have learned different skills while preparing for the competition.

“We worked on teamwork a lot this year,” Thayne said. “We want to get better.”

These types of events help students understand the importance of pursuing STEM careers, said Dana Ricketts, Davis School District STEM coordinator.

“We try to get the kids interested from as young as possible,” Ricketts said. “In the state of Utah, we have a high need for (STEM) workers.”

The event also provides students the opportunity to visit Weber State University.

“Their advisors want them to see what is life like on a university campus,” Ricketts said. “That also gets them excited. … It opens your eyes to new possibilities.”

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The overall grand champion title went to North Davis Junior High.

“It’s just a really powerful process that these kids are going through,” Patterson said. “They are excited and they are motivated to do this. … That’s engagement, they are not sitting in the classroom taking notes.”

Although her team faced some challenges and was not able to finish the competition, McKady Kunp, a sixth-grader from Valley View Elementary, said she would like to participate again next year.

“It was super stressful sometimes, but it was fun to do,” Kunp said. “It was fun to spend time with each other and on the robot.”

Kunp is now considering a career in the STEM field.

“I was going to work … with animals,” Kunp said. “I’m now considering kind of doing an engineering kind of thing.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at

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