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‘Bonnie and Clyde Strike Mars’

Maui Waena scores big in state Botball tournament.

June 6, 2013
Susan Halas , Maui Weekly

The Maui Waena Intermediate School team took second place in the recent state Botball tournament on O'ahu.

Seventeen teams from schools around Hawai'i attended, including Lokelani Intermediate School on Maui. The Kahului school was one of only three Neighbor Island schools participating. Its 14-member Technology Club team placed high in the robotics event that requires entrants to compete in a complex game using robots they have constructed and programmed themselves.

Botball competitions revolve around using autonomous robots to complete a series of tasks--such as collecting objects and moving them to another location, or recognizing certain color objects and sorting them--within a set time limit.

Article Photos

Teacher Jennifer Suzuki, known to her students simply as “Miss,” heads the mighty combo of video communications and robotics. This summer, she will be one of 20 American teachers selected by PBS to attend a workshop in Washington, D.C., to learn how to prepare video for airing on the national public broadcasting network.

Basically, it's programming, and basically, it's not easy.

"The first time I saw the slideshow for learning the C language, my head instantly hurt," said Sydney Dempsey, an eighth-grader who participated. "I never thought I would learn anything so complex. But now I can say I know how to use the C language and program a robot successfully."

She and fellow eighth-graders Wesley Sakutori and Shanelle Longboy said they were happy about the school's strong finish in the demanding tournament, especially since host Hanalani Schools was not only the state winner, but the reigning international champion as well.

Indeed, Hanalani did dominate the top tier; it placed first and third (after Maui Waena) in the event sponsored by the Global Conference on Educational Robotics (GCER).

Before heading to O'ahu, students spent seven weeks learning the complex game and building their robots, "Bonnie and Clyde," from Lego parts. Team mentor Ross Matoi, a computer systems analyst, taught them to program their creations; students also filled other roles, such as builders and documenters

"I learned how to make a robot move without a controller," said Asia Hoylman. "I also learned how to work with different types of people to accomplish a common goal."

That sentiment was shared by Renezel Lagran, who "learned a lot about codes, how to read and write it, and also, how to use it to program the robot."

They all learned, as Shanelle put it, "How it feels when you're put under the pressure of time."

Some reacted like Sydney: "Programming at first scared me. But now, I love it and think it's a blast!"

In a similar vein, Asia commented, "Programming becomes easier the more you do it. You even begin to find it kind of fun... "

Given the time and energy devoted to the competition and the reputation of Hanalani, it was no wonder it was all high fives when the rankings were announced and the Maui school finished in second place.

The team members spent part of their time on O'ahu visiting the studios of KITV and Searider Productions at Waianae High School, which specializes in video communications--Maui Waena's other strong suit.

Though robotics and video production make an unlikely pair, the school excels at both. The two seemingly unrelated special programs are the brainchild of veteran teacher Jennifer Suzuki and her husband Don, an electrical engineer and volunteer. Both subjects are offered as part of the Maui Waena Technology Club, advised by Suzuki.

Suzuki said robotics has been offered for about five years and media for three. With every passing year, the school's reputation grows. Her classroom contains a whole wall of honors and recognition that her students have earned in both areas.

With the botball competition behind them, the students are looking forward to vacation and assisting at Video Camp (see sidebar). In July, teacher Suzuki will be one of 20 U.S. educators selected by PBS to attend a workshop in Washington, D.C., where she will learn how to prepare video for airing on the national public broadcasting network.

Suzuki said the club welcomes volunteers in both robotics and video communications.

Mauians wanting to support the club are urged to contact her at or 385-2942



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