Programming Dancing Robots?!?

According to, 74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math but only 0.3% choose computer science as a major when they get to college. One explanation for this is that between middle school and the end of high school, interest in STEM declines, especially for girls attending co-ed schools. At The Academy, we work hard to give our students opportunities to study multiple STEM fields and they thrive here.

In Craig Gorton’s Robotics class, six students are hard at work writing code using a program called Arduino to control robots. Each robot has a name and an elaborate backstory. The oldest is Seamus Patrick O’Mally (piloted by Ellie P. ‘21 and Michelle S. ‘19), who was the best robot but has been eclipsed by overlooked middle child Sean Connor O’Mally (piloted by Una M. ‘20 and Kelly G. ‘21). Maeve Margaret O’Mally (piloted by Fiona K. ‘19 and Addie M. ‘22) is the youngest and is described by the girls as a “bad egg.” This robot family might be complicated but the girls love all of them.

Robotics class
Fiona K. ’19 inspects the code while Mr. Gorton helps Michelle S. ’19 and Ellie P. ’21

Working in pairs, the students have been given increasingly harder challenges. They started by learning the basics of coding and robotic circuitry. Then, Mr. Gorton asked the students to program their robot to move in a straight line, turn, and then come back. This is not as simple as putting in a few lines of code but rather, it involves careful and continuous tinkering and tweaking. An additional challenge the girls are wrestling with is that each robot has a right and left motor and they don’t always go at the same speed. The three conditions they face are that the right could be faster than the left, the left could be faster than the right, or they could be working equally. Recalibrating to account for these conditions is a challenge but the students are up for it and are able to power through together.

Robotics Class
Una M. ’20 makes code adjustments and tests the robot’s wheel speed

After moving from simple tasks to more complicated maneuvers such as completing a maze, the girls completed their greatest challenge yet: programming the robots to perform a choreographed dance together. Not only does this take creating the right code for their robot but it also means helping their robot have spacial awareness of the other robots. The girls were extremely excited when they successfully got their robots to dance with each other. Up next for the girls and the robots will be a performance in front of the whole school. We are all looking forward to seeing their dance moves!