Building Robots Helps Kids Build Life Skills

October 4, 2013 at 2:42 pm


Building a robot is much more than fun; it’s a way for kids to learn skills they’ll use all their lives, not to mention the education they’ll get in science and technology.

Nobody knows this better than IBO Christopher Stratton, a volunteer mentor for local high school students in the Eau Claire Robotics Club, who call themselves Team Tobor, which is “robot” spelled backwards. Every year the club joins in a competition sponsored by FIRST Robotics, a national nonprofit organization ( In just six weeks, contestants must create a robot, 2-5 feet tall that can perform tasks in a game created by FIRST. “Once they complete the robot, they can’t touch it again until the competition,” says Christopher. “And that’s no easy feat.”

Learning valuable skills
The students also have to raise about $10,000 for registration, robot parts, food, and hotels at the competition. That’s not easy, either. But it teaches them skills like giving presentations, making a case for donating to a cause, interacting with all kinds of business people in the community.

“Although the contest is very competitive, the students are eager to help one another any time it’s needed. For example, if one team forgot a 7/16″ wrench, all they’d have to do is request one over the loudspeaker, and within five minutes, there would be several teams lending one, or a whole set if necessary. There’s an award for this called ‘Gracious Professionalism,’ but they’d do it anyway; they want to help each other,” says Christopher.

One year Christopher’s team helped two other teams adjust their robots to meet qualification rules. “Had they not done that, the other teams wouldn’t even have been able to compete,” he notes.

The program not only teaches students about science and technology, but also how to be a great human being. – Christopher Stratton

Christopher loves spending time with the kids, helping them learn lessons large and small, from how to handle a tool and cooperating with one another to leadership and success principles. “It is a blessing and a joy to see them progress,” says Christopher, who spends an average of 10 hours a week with the group during the school year.

And they’ve racked up a great record of success for their efforts: In six out of seven years they’ve competed, their teams have seeded in the top 50 percent and have won several awards.

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