Farmer Elementary Team Takes 1st Place in National Junior Beta Competition

Students designed, built robot to 'Examine. Expand. Extend'

One by one, the young scientists dropped a colored ball into the robot they had designed and built.  The device, dubbed "B3," or beta balloon bot, examined it, selected a balloon of the same color, blew it up, and offered the inflated balloon to a bystander.

Examine. Expand. Extend. The invention was a success, just as they had planned.

But this team of inventors were all fifth-graders, members of the Farmer Elementary Robotics and Technology teams.  Their project idea, design and presentation earned them first place in the National Junior Beta Competition, which was held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Another team at Farmer placed fourth in a separate category for a video the team created. 

The eight-person team, led by Farmer STEM teacher Jessica Goodman and her husband, Patrick, started planning in October to come up with a project to reflect the theme of this year’s competition: Examine, Expand, Extend.  They met at least once a week during the day and one day a week after school.

“Our first session is always, ‘let’s look at the theme, let’s break these words down.’ Just brainstorming those ideas,” Jessica said.  “We keep it really open because of that creativity piece.  We want them to the use their imagination – think of anything.”

“When we start we typically have no idea what it’s going to end up being,” Patrick added.  “We’re flying by the seat of our pants.”

Beyond the creative aspect, the students were hands-on when it came to building the robot itself.  “It was the nuts and bolts, the inputs and outputs, the sensors that robot needs to have – we wanted them all to have an understanding of how the robot works,” Goodman said.

“Even if we don’t end up using it, it’s good for them to have exposure to the different parts,” Patrick said.

After winning at the state level earlier this year, the team had to shift gears once the pandemic shuttered schools and large in-person events, putting together a virtual presentation.

“It’s not something you would expect a fifth-grader to be able to do,” Goodman said, “but they’re so invested in it and they love it.” 

She added that the process builds teamwork by requiring discussion, compromise and investment from all members.

“They’re really proud of themselves,” she said.  “They know the amount of work they put into it, and it really shows that working hard pays off.”

Members of the prize-winning team agreed.

“It was really fun.  We got to have a great team and all the people on our team definitely pitched in,” team member Archer Pribble said.  “I loved working with all my classmates and my teachers.”

Another member, Bethany Balcarcel, agreed, saying the robotics competition gave her an opportunity to be creative and work with her friends.

 “It was hard but also pretty fun,” Bethany said. “I was very amazed and surprised that we won first place.  But we really worked so hard as a team.”