Problem solving and teamwork; Local VEX Robotics elementary school teams prepare for tournament

Published 8:03 am Monday, January 8, 2018

The gym at Neveln Elementary School was filled with the clicks and whirs of gears and wheels on Saturday as VEX Robotics teams practiced for their upcoming tournament on Jan. 20 at Austin High School.

Students from Neveln, Southgate, and I.J. Holton played the game “Ringmaster,” requiring them to use their remote controlled robots to stack as many plastic rings in an allotted time. Coaches stood by counting off the seconds. At a certain point, students with the controls had to hand them off to teammates to finish the round.

“There are two levels of robotics,” said Neveln Robotics Coach Clint Phillips. “There’s a middle school and a high school level, but there is also an elementary level called VEX IQ, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”

A pair of robots battle.

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The students, such as Neveln fourth grader Jadaven McNiff, were very enthusiastic as they competed.

“I just love to build and create my own things and I wanted to do that with a robot and I wanted to challenge myself with what I had,” McNiff said.

It is a sentiment shared by I.J. Holton fifth grader Anita Rao., who is now in her second year of VEX Robotics.

“I like building robots at home,” she said. “I’ve learned how to hold my patience. When we’re running out of time we have to really speed it up and get things done, but I’ve learned to also have fun and relax.”

But the kids are also learning a valuable skill: teamwork.

A team from Southgate Elementary comes together to talk and plan during a practice session Saturday morning for the upcoming VEX Tournament later this month.

“Teamwork is probably one of the best things that you could use to achieve a goal,” said Southgate fourth grader Jazmin Conner. “I really like how we have to work together to achieve a goal.”

Phillips agrees that teamwork is essential while competing in VEX Robotics.

“They’re not doing this on their own; they have to work with a group of peers to solve these problems,” he said. “There is a lot of interpersonal communication, conflict solving that they have to figure out together. It’s a pretty involved process. I see it as basic problem solving. This is a complicated activity that they’re doing and they have to break it down into smaller chunks, which is a great skill that I think any employer would look for in an adult. Having this opportunity at a young age to break down complicated problems like this and work with them is a great experience for any kid.”

As for the upcoming tournament, Phillips hopes Saturday’s practice will get them ready.

“This is the only tournament we do with the elementary students and it’s giving the kids on the teams a chance to feel what a real tournament is like,” he said.

Phillips said that teams from all over the state will be competing at the Jan. 20 tournament. The tournament will feature high school and middle school teams as well as the elementary teams.

“It’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “It’s a really exciting day.”

Neveln Elementary students Naryk Recter, left, and Kyra Gilles, right, watch as their team’s robot goes to work.