At the beginning of each school day, kids flock to Mrs. Houseman’s room. And why wouldn’t they? That’s where the robots are!
For fifth grader William Macdonald, the chance to get hands-on with technology is one of the best parts of attending ASU Prep Polytechnic STEM Academy. He has a bit of a gift for building things and bringing his ideas to life.
Now, inspired by the friends he sees flocking to the robots each morning, he’s sharing his enthusiasm for robots and coding with his entire school. Just before winter break, he worked with a friend to create a proposal in Google Slides and presented it to Erin Nielsen, the school counselor.
As good ideas do, this one worked up the chain and eventually William found himself presenting his ideas to Principal Claudia Mendoza. She approved the plan, and in a few short weeks, the first-ever ASU Robot Race will take place.
William has planned the entire event, from creating marketing posters in Canva and recruiting participants to planning the track and obstacles the robots will encounter. The track is a straight shot, but there are obstacles and multiple levels, where robots will have to navigate around cones and adapt their speed to clear a ramp.
Over the past few weeks, competitors have been practicing diligently, and while William won’t be personally competing, he’s proud to report that he’s created a program that successfully solves the track. Of course, William has a bit of an edge. Not only did he design the track, but he’s been coding since second grade.
“I’m not competing, but I had a little fun doing the track,” William says. “If I did compete, it’s kind of cheating because I’m the one who made the track and I know all about it.”
In addition to promoting and preparing the track, William organized the competition itself, including as many kids as possible. One student was randomly chosen from each classroom in grades third through sixth. Each grade will compete to name a winner, with four robots simultaneously racing in their own lanes following the same exact track. (Crashing or drifting into a competitor’s lane means you’ll get disqualified.)
Then, the finalists for each grade will compete for the grand prize: a pizza party with cupcakes and a movie day for the whole class.
Once the dust settles on this big endeavor, you might find William helping his neighbors with odd jobs and helpful tasks like tutoring. He created his own website and business while exploring his entrepreneurial abilities.
He comes by that work ethic honestly. Over the span of three years, the entire family (Dad, Sean; Mom, Krystal; and sister, Kadence, 7) pitched in to build the house where they now live in Queen Creek. “William wired the electrical lights in his own room and his sister’s room, and he built walls and did all kinds of crazy stuff,” Sean recalls.
That ambition won’t stop any time soon. Down the road, look for William to follow in both his parents’ footsteps and go to ASU for his undergraduate degree.