While robotics remain all the rage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs nationwide, Olive Grove Charter School is taking a locally unusual approach to the craze

Instead of building traditional robots, students are being instructed to build their devices to perform duties specific to water. 

The charter, which serves county students from transitional kindergarten to 12th grade, tapped science teacher Larry Madrigal to launch the robotics course at the Santa Maria location this past year. 

Madrigal, who had previously initiated the area's first underwater robotics program at St. Joseph High School in 2005, created the Marine Machines — a team of three boys and two girls — to build a robot and compete at the Marine Advanced Technology Education competition in Monterey Bay during April. 

The project serves two main purposes: to expose the students, who primarily work from home, to a social learning experience and further develop their science and math skills. 

Specifically, Madrigal explained the project as being crucial to understanding marine biology, as underwater robots are mostly responsible for everything from discovering new organisms to identifying the effects of an oil spill on coral colonies. 

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"The future of the marine environment is all going into underwater robotics," he explained. 

Since adding the program, Olive Grove has been receiving increasing requests to join the Marine Machines. 

As a result, it soon may expand to one or more of the other locations in Santa Maria, Lompoc, New Cuyama or Santa Barbara if funding permits. 

"This brings more opportunities to the kids," Madrigal said. "It gives them a new experience and that's what I love."

Jamie Guista covers education in Santa Maria and the Central Coast for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @JamieGuista.

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