CRESTVIEW — Twins Jack and Josh Foley just stared at a pile of parts needed to assemble their illuminated robotic arm.
Fortunately, the Antioch Elementary School third-grade gifted and inclusion students had ready and willing advisers.
Engineers for America volunteers, system safety officers Mel Duvall and Michael Huang of the Eglin 96th Test Wing, worked in the boys' classroom Thursday morning.
Like Jack and Josh's teacher, Laura Pink, does for her kids, Huang said his career was inspired by a science teacher who let his students close their texts now and then.
"I had a teacher in high school whose focus wasn't just on books, but on doing demonstrations, too," Huang said.
For Duvall, helping students wasn't unfamiliar territory.
"I have a 4-year-old granddaughter," he said, adding she turns to him for repairs and assembling things. "Pop-Pop can do everything, she thinks."
Pink said assembling their robots taught her students multiple skills, not least of which were teamwork and patience.
"It's time consuming but fun," she said. "They get frustrated because they're excited and want it to be done right away."
Debugging a robug
Having Engineers for America volunteers work with the kids brings real-world expertise into the classroom, Pink said.
Josmar Polanco and Dennis Lin brought the power supply from their Coke can "robug," or robotic bug, to Huang, requesting he solder a broken wire.
Soon, the robug was buzzing and zipping around the floor, attracting classmates who gathered to applaud the boys' success. But suddenly it stopped.
With Huang's help, Josmar and Dennis realized another wire jarred loose, breaking the electrical circuit.
"The black wire wasn't touching anymore," Dennis said. "The wires have to be twisted together to be stronger."
Meanwhile, Duvall helped Emma Brackett and Jeseka Williams assemble their robot. Jeseka held a nut in place while Emma tightened a screw.
Noah Gibson and Austin Blum struggled to assemble part of their solar-powered Viking longboat. A stubborn tap screw just wasn't cooperating.
"I tried to do a modification but it really didn't work," Noah said.
That's OK, Huang and Duvall assured him. Trial and error is part of the path to engineering success.