Middle schoolers take robots to state
Published 1:01 pm Sunday, November 29, 2015
Austin seventh-graders have the opportunity to compete with their robot at state this year for VEX Robotics, but a smaller competition is coming closer to home the weekend before.
More than 200 leading middle and high school VEX Robotics students and mentors from Minnesota will unite at the Dream It. Do It. Southern Minnesota VEX Robotics Tournament on Jan. 16, 2016, at Austin High School. The tournament is hosted by Riverland Community College. The tournament will feature 36 teams who will compete with and against other teams in a series of back-to-back robot challenges.
“I think particularly they’re getting a lot out of it right now,” Ellis Middle School robotics coach and teacher Tom Fritz said. “Just teamwork, problem solving, being persistent when road blocks come their way. And just the ability to work as a team.”
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Teams will compete for the championship title of the tournament by competing in the VEX Robotics Competition Nothing But Net game, driving robots they designed, built and programmed using the VEX Robotics platform. VEX Robotics Competition’s Nothing But Net game is played by scoring colored balls in high and low goals and by elevating the robot in a designated climbing zone. Teams will get a chance to qualify for state in this tournament, similar to previous tournaments.
Fritz said this year’s seventh grade team qualified for state in one of the previous competitions on Nov. 13, where two other top teams chose them to partner with. He hopes the eighth-grade team, along with the teams from I.J. Holton Intermediate School and the Austin High School, also make it to state. The teams will compete again on Jan. 9 in Windom.
The competition in Austin is one of the few left before state, which takes place Jan. 23. Last year, the competition was held in Albert Lea, but Fritz is glad it will be held in Austin this year, as that cuts down on travel time and cost.
Last year, Fritz explained the seventh-grade team (now eighth-graders) qualified for state but had no funding to compete. Lack of funding is also what kept over 12 students who were on the state-qualifying team at I.J. Holton last year off the team this year when moving to the middle school.
“Even though we’re only in our second year, we have really strong kids,” Fritz said. “And unfortunately we had to say no to some of the kids.”
This year, he hopes the teams can raise enough money to fund the trip for any team that makes it. The middle-school teams will hold a fundraiser at Pizza Ranch on Jan. 13. Students will bus tables and work for tips. Fritz said while this raises money for what the teams want to do, the students also learn through earning money on their own.
“It’s more than just robotics,” he said. “It’s a lot of other skills they’re learning.”
This year — the second year of the program at Ellis — Fritz was able to create more positions for each member on the team, instead of just having several students doing the same thing on the team. This year, positions such as builder, engineer, driver and more give students a specific focus for their place on the team. There’s even a place for a team manager, and Fritz said this allows students on the team who want to be involved but aren’t necessarily good with building or programing.
“We can take people who just organize the effort,” he explained.
Fritz said the competition between the seventh- and eighth-grade teams gives things a fun dynamic, though he has to remind the students sometimes that everyone is working together, also. The teams are able to learn from each other.
The tournament in Austin is one of a series of VEX Robotics competitions that takes place internationally throughout the year, including four other regional tournaments and the state VEX robotics tournament. VEX Robotics is on of the fastest growing competitive robotics program for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges around the world, with more than 12,000 teams from 33 countries that participate in more than 1,000 VEX Robotics events worldwide.
“The robots that students build and the competitions that they compete in are an inspiration to see,” Bob Bender, tournament coordinator and faculty member at Riverland Community College, said in a press release. “We are excited to offer this STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) opportunity and expose youth and their parents to related educational and career opportunities in advanced manufacturing.”
The tournament in Austin is one of five tournaments this season. The tournaments garner much support from a variety of sponsors. The VEX Robotics competition is managed by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation.
The middle-schoolers also got a chance to show off their robot to elementary students last Monday at Neveln Elementary School, where youngsters are already gearing up for robotics in the First Lego League.
Volunteer coach with Minnesota Reading Corps Jason Beadell is excited to see how far the students have grown since they started. The program just gives the students a taste of robotics.
“It’s really a lot of introduction,” he said. “Introduction to programing, introduction to engineering, kind of getting some experience working together as a team.”
The students also get a chance to compete and learn to work together. They build a small robot during the program. Beadell explained I.J. Holton has a robotics program built into the curriculum, so this is a good introduction to robotics before the students get there.
“It’s mainly a little bit of learning, a little bit of engineering and a little bit of fun,” he said.
To learn more about the Dream It. Do It. Southern Minnesota VEX Robotics Tournament, contact Bob Bender at 507-379-3343 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Dream It. Do It. Minnesota, visit dreamitdoitmn.com. More information about the VEX Robotics Competition is available at RoboticsEducation.org or at RobotEvents.com.