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Robotic challenge teaches teamwork, STEM

February 2nd, 2017

By Dennis Nartker | KPC News

“Fascinating” is what Mr. Spock would say from the original 1960s Star Trek TV series if he saw what took place last Saturday in the Rome City Elementary School gym.

Anyone from the 1960s warped through time to that gym on Jan. 28 would also say “fascinating.” They would then ask where are the wires connecting the controllers to the rovers? I didn’t ask where are the wires, but I did use the word “fascinating” several times.

This was 21st century technology going on with remote controlled robot rovers moving about and coded and built by 8-to-12-year-old boys and girls.

Rome City Elementary hosted a Vex IQ Robotics Tournament for elementary schools.

Spectators cheered from the bleacher seats like it was a Saturday morning basketball game. They applauded successes and even sighed with sympathy when a robot rover didn’t start roving or stopped roving on the two rectangular playing fields. Maybe they didn’t understand the scoring system, but they watched the reactions from the 8-to-12-year-old rover operators and their teammates during the competition.

Two robots from different teams competed on one 4-foot by 8-foot playing field as an alliance in 60-second long teamwork matches to score points. The object of the game was to attain the highest score by moving Hexballs in their colored scoring zone and goals, and by parking and balancing their robot rovers on the bridge.

Two different types of remote controlled Lego kit robot rovers moved across the playing field. One had two arms to grab, hold and place Hexballs, and the other had a basket-like scoop for picking up Hexballs.

Sixteen teams of 3rd through 6th graders from nine different schools competed to be the top two qualifiers for the state tournament on Feb. 25 at IUPUI in Indianapolis.

East Noble technology integration specialist Ann Ventura said Vex IQ Robotics encourage teamwork, problem solving and leadership. The opportunity to build and show off their roving robots allowed students to grow their curiosity and gain an introduction to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

In addition to the two playing fields, a skills challenge playing field was setup for individual teams. There were tables where students could make repairs to their robots, large timing monitors and a large illuminated scoreboard.

Several educators, instructional assistants and adult coaches volunteered to manage the event.

The TechPoint Foundation for Youth awarded 347 grants to schools for a robotic kit, registration for one team for one year, training for one teacher and ongoing state-level support. Each of the East Noble elementaries fielded at least two teams. The East Noble Technology Department bought school bought two additional kits for each school, and a challenge playing field.

Students spent several hours after school for four to six weeks building the rovers and learning how to operate them. They relied on instructional booklets and video to fine tune their rovers and skills.

The Rome City Elementary School Roman Bots joined with the Cedarville Elementary School Cubs to win the teamwork challenge and qualify for the state championship. The Woodview Elementary School Eaglebots won the individual skills award.

High fives to Ventura, teachers and volunteers for providing the students with a rewarding experience.