Students gear up for competition

ABOVE: From left: Keegan Inglett, Trace DeBoer, Tyson Jones and Jaxson Weihe practice operating their robots during a practice on November 19 at Fairmont Elementary School. On Saturday this team and many others will compete in a county-wide robotics challenge at Granada Huntley East Chain School.

GRANADA- This Saturday dozens of fifth and sixth graders across Martin County will compete at Granada-Huntley-East Chain School for an annual robotics competition facilitated by Martin County KnowHow.

The host of the competition rotates between different schools in Martin County in an effort to make the event more accessible to everyone in the area.

In the competition students will compete in teams of two to three to solve an engineering challenge created by VEX Robotics; a private robotics program which designs and facilitates such competitive challenges.

This year’s challenge has students design and construct a robot which is capable of removing plastic pucks from dispensers before launching them into goal zones. Students will receive points for the number of pucks their team removed from the dispensers and which goal zones they are moved into. Students will take turns controlling their robot in each round.

Sam Viesselman is on the board of directors for Martin County KnowHow and has been working with its VEX Robotics competitions since they began in 2019.

“It’s been fun to see (students) grow as engineers and as they learn more skills they need less guidance from us. The games are different every year but also there’s similarities … for the first time they have no idea what’s going on … but they get better and better at solving these challenges,” said Viesselman.

Ahead of the event students are free to design whatever kind of robot they prefer so long as it uses regulation parts and fits within a particular area. Students can design their robots from scratch or modify a starter schematic given to them at the start of preparation. While many groups use an arm to push the pucks into the score zone like a hockey stick, another design has the pucks fall into a bin which is carried by the robot and feeds into a launching mechanism.

When building a robot students develop a variety of different skills at different points in the engineering process such as spatial awareness, following complex instructions, as well as basic programming, electrical and mechanical processes. Because this is a team-based competition, participants also learn how to collaborate with one another on complex problems. Learning largely takes place hands-on with minimal instructions given by advisors.

This open-ended instruction allows students to learn in whatever way suits them best. It also allows them to develop original solutions to address unexpected problems.

“There was a group where they were struggling with their robot falling over, it was too tall and wobbly. Normally I’m used to giving (groups) hints on how to solve the problem but this group just took the robot off to the side and came back with a counterweight on it so that it was heavier at the base and it wouldn’t tip over. I was both surprised with how they did it which was creative and clever, and also how they did it with no guidance. They learned how to solve that problem,” said Viesselman.

While Saturday’s competition was designed by VEX Robotics, Martin County KnowHow is not affiliated with their official tournaments. As a result only students from Martin County will participate and high-scoring teams will not progress to another competition.

Martin County KnowHow’s next event centers around 3D printing and will be held on December 28. More information about this week’s competition and other STEM activities can be found at www.mcknow.how


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