Determination leads Pauoa Elementary all-girl robotics team to advance in competition


A team of five girls from Pauoa Elementary show their dedication to learning through robotics.

​​​​​​The Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) field remains largely dominated by males. However, when it comes to school-level competition, girls from Pauoa Elementary​ are making a big impact.

Five determined 4th- and 5th-grade girls make up the school's Robotics Team and their skills in STEM are fierce!

Pauoa Elementary has had girls steadily involved in robotics. Teams have included a mix of boys and girls; to an even split of boys and girls last year, to an all-girls 2016 team.

"I like science in general because you get to experiment and learn new things," said Jodie Shinsato, Pauoa student team member.

Pauoa STEM teacher Duncan Sutherland and 4th-grade teacher Lena Wong lead the team. Both have been teaching at the school for over a decade. They say seeing the growth and success of their students has been extremely rewarding.

The students are held to a high standard of commitment and perseverance.

"We have learned to be very up front about the time commitments," Sutherland said. "Before we make our selection, we hold a parent meeting so that the parents, and the student, understand the time commitments. We practice on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Saturdays for four hours."

This year's team made the decision to increase practices and requested their teachers to additionally meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. The girls were determined to make an impression in the District Robotics Competition. It entailed the building and programming of a robot and a problem-solving presentation.

The competition topic was "Animal Allies." Teams were required to present before judges about their chosen animal's problem situation accompanied by a poster to promote the solution.

"The girls had to memorize, rehearse, and present in front of various audiences," Wong said. "This had an extremely positive effect on their confidence. Students that are in my class have been much more vocal. They speak up to ask clarifying questions, or to share their thoughts and ideas."

"I like that since we need to do a live presentation, we learn to speak better. This makes me more confident as a speaker," student team member Maegan Lee said.

On Nov. 4, 2016, after three months of studying and practice, Pauoa's team delivered their project and presentation. Among the eight competing groups, Pauoa was the only all-girl team.

During the robotic obstacle course run, their bot struggled to get through the first couple of objectives. The team's designated operators kept their cool and determined a wheel's tire had come askew.

They scored only a 3 in the first round. However, they made the course look easy in the next two rounds, scoring 117 and 122 — nearly double the next highest competitor.

The high scores earned them a win in the robot course run category. They also won the overall championship and a spot in the First Lego League state championship tournament. The next two spots went to teams from Mililani Ike Elementary and Punahou School.

The Pauoa El team instructors acknowledge the experience has given the girls a level of maturity in working together and in their critical thinking.

"One difference both I and the girls have noted is that their decision process is more thorough and inclusive," said Sutherland. "In years prior, really hard decisions would almost always come down to a vote. This year, they make sure that everyone's voice is heard. If someone is not in agreement, they will do their best to persuade each other and achieve unanimity."

Pauoa El Principal Dale Arakaki thinks the team's success fits reflects the school's motto: "Believe to Achieve! Stand up! Be heard! Let's excel now!"

"We work with the students to push beyond their comfort zone and strive for another level of excellence," Arakaki said. "These girls show that our students are not afraid of working hard or pushing into new areas of knowledge."

About three years ago, Pauoa Elementary started a STEM class that serves grades 2 through 5. Each class meets for an hour and a half every other week. The teachers say many of the students love the class. The robotics team advances reflect the school's goal to increase STEM learning.

"I am a main programmer and my programming skills have really improved, Shinsato said. "It's really fun to watch the robot do the challenges! When it can successfully complete a mission I'm really proud of the hard work I've done."

"Though achievement in competition drives them forward, it is motivated by a desire to do their best rather than merely do better than someone else," Sutherland said. "What it comes down to is confidence; confidence that they are prepared for any challenges, academic or real world, they may face in the future."

The team will take on other top teams on Dec. 3, 2016, at the First Lego League state championship at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.


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