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Students will learn coding, compete in statewide challenges themed around engineering for space

COURTESY PHOTO: ZERO ROBOTICS AND OREGONASK - Students pose for a group photo in 2018 after taking part in the Zero Robotics competition in Oregon. This year, students in the St. Helens School District will have a chance to take part in the 2019 summer program, which will begin on July 10. Middle school students in the St. Helens School District are invited to take part in a free summer robotics program hosted in part by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory.

The middle school was one of eight schools in Oregon to be selected to participate in the Zero Robotics competition over the summer. This year is the first time the school district has applied for and been accepted to the program.

Now, program advocates are looking for students to sign up.

The summer program will meet three days a week starting July 10 at Lewis and Clark Elementary School from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Several field days will also be held during the summer when students will travel to Oregon State University in Corvallis and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland.

Student participants will learn various computer-based coding and engineering skills in order to program a SPHERE to perform a specific set of tasks. The SPHERES, or "Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites," are modeled after those used on the International Space Station.

During the summer camps, students will be asked to program their SPHERE to complete a certain task. At the end of the summer, each middle school team in the state will take part in a competition to determine which program works the best. The state winner will then have a chance to take his or her SPHERE programming skills to a national competition.

The winner of the national contest will get to see his or her code programed into a functional SPHERE on the International Space Station, where it will complete a task during a live demo.

This is the first time St. Helens has offered the Zero Robotics program.

Barbara Wright, a former science teacher at the middle school, will act as the program coordinator for the summer workshop and is looking forward to learning alongside the students who sign up. Students will learn how to write in coding language C++, explore engineering and space engineering concepts, develop strategies, accomplish tasks, and work in teams, Wright explained.

"I'm going to be learning along the way with the kids. It's going to be really exciting," Wright said. "The kids have an awesome opportunity to get something like C++ in their tool belt now."

"It's a unique way to be creative and use skills you didn't really think you had available," she added.

The Zero Robotics program is led by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory, Innovation Learning Center and Aurora Flight Sciences under the sponsorship of Center of the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Northrop Grumman Foundation and NASA, a spokesperson for the program explained.

To sign up, call 503-366-7300 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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