Pasaena ISD teams perform well at battle of the ’bots
On the surface, it might just look like kids building robots, but the goals of the VEX Robotics competition, which staged a regional contest Sunday at Clear Brook High School in Friendswood, include enriching lives with science, technology, engineering and math, teaching youths to think on their feet and stopping stereotypes.
Schools from Pasadena ISD districts did very well at the state level. Students from Thompson Intermediate won both the Teamwork Champion Award and the Robot Skills Second Place Award, while high school competitors on the team Pasadena ISD Robotics were tournament finalists.
The Astrobots team from Clear Creek ISD’s Clear Brook High School earned a trip to the annual national championships, VEX Worlds, in April in Kentucky by taking first place with their robot at the state level.
Andy Schaafs, the robotics and engineering program manager for Clear Creek ISD, said that robotics competitions like the ones facilitated by VEX are critical facets of education.
“It’s like physical fitness,” said Schaafs, “people understand that you need to be physically fit in order to have a successful, healthy adulthood and that’s just accepted. I think that’s where we’re headed with STEM fields, and robotics really fosters and reinforces that love in kids right from the start. If we’re going to keep advancing technologically on the world stage and stay out in front of engineering and technology, it needs to be available and accessible to kids from an early age.”
Making robotics available and accessible is exactly what VEX tries to do.
“There are other competitions out there,” said Lindsey Gideon, marketing director for Vex Robotics. “But our niche in the market is that we’re scalable and affordable so that it creates a really low barrier to entry.”
This is espcially important when a district or its students might not
Competition is divided by age groups, and all material to construct the robots is obtained through Vex Robotics. Younger kids get plastic that does not require tools to construct. Participants at the high school level get an erector-set style package that allows them to build a robot to their specific design.
“Basically,” said Schaafs, “the kit for the younger kids is like LEGOs on steroids and the kit for the older kids is like an erector set on steroids.”
VEX Worlds is in April and is comprised of challenges where teams face one another and have their respective robots complete pre-determined tasks, postured as games, for points.
“The games change every year,” said Gideon, “and the game for the following year is presented after Nationals in April, so teams have a whole year to plan, if they want. We have some teams that compete in Nationals, find out what the game for the following year will be and go back to their hotel rooms and start planning. We have some teams that form in May and take the summer to meet - we leave it up to them, but the sooner they start, they more time you can iterate and prototype and see if your ideas work.”
The competition is international, bringing teams from as far away as Syria and China.
“There are 40 to 45 different countries and more than 18,000 teams involved; so it is truly an international movement,” said Gideon. “You are oftentimes competing with teams that don’t even speak your language, which creates a level of openness and understanding we really want to foster.”
Gideon said that in addition to helping make kids students of the world, breaking down barriers in science, technology, engineering and math - known as “STEM” fields - is an essential component of the competition.
“It’s about getting more women to have a voice in STEM now and later on down the line,” she said. “We know that prejudice starts early, and it’s echoed in almost everything, from the way we teach to the toys that kids play with. If we can reach kids before they develop a stereotype of what somebody looks like who’s into science, or math or technology, we’re enforcing change and creating more well-rounded solutions as a society.”
“Getting kids involved in technology early sort of fixes these stereotypes before they start,” he said. “The stereotype of people who were interested in robotics and engineering used to be a nerdy white guy with crazy hair, but that’s not true. We have people of all races involved in robotics. The team captains and drivers for both the Clear Brook and Clear Lake High School teams are young ladies. We have football players and other athletes and all kinds of people involved and interested – and what they all have in common is that they are passionate and dedicated kids. I could go on about them for days.”
The competitions, he says, teaches kids so much more than robotics.
“I love seeing the kids at these competitions,” Schaaf said. “There are kids from all age groups there, so the younger kids are seeing the older kids running around, rushing down the hallways with their robots, wanting to get there early, taking it seriously because they want to. They look up to those older kids, they think ‘I want to be that person when I get older.’ And then the younger kids take the competition seriously because they see these kids they look up to doing it – they’re not being told to do it, they’re seeing it happen. What you’ve got when you have everyone together like that is a situation that creates heroes.”
Here is a listing of local high school teams that participated: http://bit.ly/2FcQGpn and click the “Team list” tab. For teams at the elementary level, visit http://bit.ly/2FBT1rz