Homeschoolers Make Their Debut at 4-H Robotics Expo


The Mega Builders, a 4-H Homeschool Robotics Club, experienced their first 4-H Robotics Expo on Saturday, March 29th at the University of Maine at Machias. The Reynolds Gymnasium was packed with teams from all over Washington, Hancock and Penobscot Counties. Our homeschool group, based in Hancock County, traveled up to be a part of this amazing day. The Mega Builders are the only homeschool group that have participated in this Expo, now in it’s eighth year.

During the first part of the day, teams of 2-4 kids ages nine to thirteen gave formal presentations three times to three different judges and then were asked detailed questions about their projects. The Mega Builders brought three teams, a total of eight kids who, during breaks from presenting, were able to circulate the gym to watch the other teams in action. Mega Builders Blue Team, including Ian Brenner-Simpson, Paxton Browne and Shane Gagnon, brought for their project a robotic arm that could lift tires with a remote control device they built with touch sensors. The Greem Team, with Kate Brenner-Simpson, Atty Browne and Charlee Browne displayed their musical sequencing robot that used a color sensor to read Lego bricks and play “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”. The Red Team, with Neil Wilpan and Zak Stevenson, created a Lego sorting robot that could sense and pick up colored Lego marbles and sort them by color.

After the presentations, kids took a break and watched two talks in the gym. The Washington Academy robotics team showed the expo participants some high school level robotics including the building of their own circuitry and an ultra sonic sensor that could sense an object, stop and then evaluate where to go next by measuring distance in two different directions. Then Tide Mill Enterprises gave a demonstration about tree harvesting.

A break for lunch was quickly followed by numerous hands-on science activities across the campus, including a Zombie Apocalypse event in which kids had to determine the safest place in Maine to be during a zombie apocalypse by digitally mapping out the state considering specific zombie behavior (see northern Aroostook County!). Kids were also able to put together a complete bird skeleton, make slime and build a bog in a bottle, among other things.

During these science activities, some kids, including Mega Builders Red Team members Zak and Neil were trying out the Tree Harvesting Challenge Track. The Expo challenge this year was to build a robot that could avoid a mountain using sensors, harvest trees (dowels) and bring them to a retrieval area. It was an extremely tricky task and of the many teams that competed during the final trials, only one team was able to bring any trees back at all. None-the-less Mega Builders Red Team were awarded 2nd place in the “Best Rookie” category (see photo above).

Many thanks to Jen Lobley from the UMaine Cooperative Extension and her legion of volunteers and to the Perloff Foundation who have been instrumental in bringing robotics to rural Maine. The Mega Builders homeschoolers spent a full day competing, networking and enjoying themselves in a safe, science-heavy atmosphere. Since it was their first time at the 4-H Robotics Expo and they were the only homeschool group, a lot was to be learned and they’re already talking about next year.

To hear what the team members thought, some of the Mega Builders’ comments are included below:

“I thought the selection of afternoon classes was spectacular, and if I could have, I would have likely done them all.”  –Zak Stevenson

“I grew a lot from this experience, I have become a more confident speaker.”                    –Kate Brenner-Simpson

“It was interesting to see all the other robotics and I was surprised that we got a trophy.” –Neil Wilpan

“I had a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to next year’s Expo”                                  –Ian Brenner-Simpson






Mary Thibodeau-Gagnon

About Mary Thibodeau-Gagnon

Mary homeschools her two sons in a rural area of Maine, while her daughter goes to school. She strives to meet the needs of all her kids while maintaining her sanity.