San Jon Robot best in state

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

When San Jon students Porfy Martinez and Ryan Livingston were working on their class’ robot, they said there were times they were ready to throw it out the window.

But they said it’s a good thing they didn’t – for what started,
essentially, as a pile of debris, ended up as an award-winning robot named Hal in this year’s BEST Robotics, Inc., competition.

Not only did the San Jon students sweep first place in all of New Mexico, but they’re headed to Dallas in December to try their hand at the national win.

Well, they’ll really be trying the robot’s hand. The project was to create a robot they could use to change the batteries in an ailing Hubble Space Telescope. The San Jon crew came up with a machine with a hand-like mechanism mounted on a long-handled platform (to get it into outer space, of course).

Kids from across the country were given six weeks and the same raw materials – and little else.

“We were given scrap parts and we had to engineer it to specification,” said science teacher Steve Goodgame. “The robot’s awesome.”

Although Goodgame may be new to San Jon – he’s taught there for a year – it’s not his first time to guide his classroom to the BEST national competition. It’s actually his fifth. And his love of science goes as far back as 1975 when, as a ninth grader, he won an award himself at the New Mexico State Fair for his solar collector.

But this year he – and 30 of his seventh through 12th grade students – talked robots.

Preparing for the BEST contest, which stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology, each of the students played a different part in the whole, said tenth-grader Josh Saville, who designed the project’s Web site.

Some worked on the actual construction of the robot. Others worked on the massive notebook that documented every step of creation’s way. Still others came up with the artwork, posters and slogans to promote their award-winning concoction. All of them brainstormed. And all sang praises for the robot – even when they wanted to throw it out the window.

“This is a great class,” Livingston, a senior, said. “We couldn’t ask for a better project – even when we’d build it one way and it wouldn’t work.”

Saville summed up the project in three words: “Exhilarating. Stressful. Fun.”

In fact, students on hand in Goodgame’s science room on Thursday thought the latter of his entire way of teaching.

“He’s a new teacher and brings in a whole bunch of new things,” Matinez said, “like the robotics team, the science fair, the science Olympiad.”

Tenth-grader Gabby Stoner, who helped with the artwork and the notebook, said, “It took a lot of hard work and a whole lot of brainstorming, but Mr. Goodgame can make everything fun – even the engineering process.”

To learn more about Hal, San Jon’s award-winning robot, visit and click on BEST Robotics in the left-hand index.

To learn more about the BEST Robotics, Inc., competition, visit