Punahou Robotics: So Much More Than Lego

Lesli Yogi

Julie Atterbom P‘23, P‘29

Four years ago, I embarked on a journey with the destination unknown. I was asked to co-coach a robotics team for my soon-to-be 5th grade son. Although I knew nothing about programming, I knew I could figure out written instructions and help guide my son through the short 3-month season. I soon found out there was much more to robotics than that.

Fast forward four years, I am still co-coach for my son’s now 8th grade robotics team, I still don’t know how to program, but what I have learned from being part of the Punahou robotics community is immeasurable.

Each year, teams are presented with a challenge they must solve. They brainstorm, document and reflect on this process through an Engineering Notebook. Simultaneously, they collaborate, design and build a robot to solve this challenge. Then it all culminates in a competition with other teams across the state and sometimes the world in a dazzling showcase of robots beyond imagination.

Punahou’s robotics program has grown tremendously over the last four years. It went from being housed in one small space to being expanded into two labs – one of which is stocked with state-of-the-art equipment. It went from having two mentors to many, from hundreds of emails and questions, to a comprehensive resource website. It went from simply building something that moved, to trying to solve the world’s problems. Through the Punahou’s robotics program, students have learned more than the technical aspect of the program. They have also learned how to think outside of the box, compete and collaborate with “gracious professionalism” and grow into caring citizens of a rapidly changing world.

With the never-ending guidance of Aaron Dengler and Justin Lai, every child that experiences robotics at Punahou will be changed forever. They will see the world in a different light. They will face challenges with nerves of steel. They will understand the complex world of coding and programming effortlessly. It has been my honor to learn from both Aaron and Justin, the driving force behind Punahou’s successful robotics program.

Four years ago, we could not have imagined everything we have experienced thus far. The relationships we have made, the life skills we have learned and the meaningful experiences we have all shared will be with us forever. Our kids are beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to experience such a program — a program where they are encouraged to dream and inspired to change the world.

I would encourage parents to get involved and volunteer in whatever activities your child is passionate about. Punahou is a place with unlimited opportunities and the experiences you gain will be enriching and memorable. The PFA is also a great way to get involved and provides many opportunities for you to get engaged. Check out our volunteer web page and join us!