ORANGE PARK – What could be viewed as a ‘Battle Royale’ for robots is really a competition that challenges students to research, think on their feet and cordially work together to come up with solutions using coding skills and Lego pieces.
Hundreds of Clay County elementary students gathered at the Thrasher-Horne Conference Center Jan. 11 for the Clay County School District’s annual Robothrasher robotics competition.
“There should be a hashtag ‘more than robots’ because there’s a lot more that happens during the competition,” said Leslee Bryan, STEM curriculum specialist for the Clay County School District. “They also have three judging sessions where the entire group of kids have to go in front of a panel of judges and complete a task.”
During a judging session, kids must showcase their robots to the judges. Beyond the sessions, students must also complete a number of missions in front of everyone in the main conference room. Students program their robots atop the mission table to complete such tasks as place a ball in a basket, hammer its arm down in a carnival game-like manner and much more. However, students don’t know ahead of time what task they’ll be asked to program. That’s where quick thinking comes into play.
Either before or after the robot judging panel, the students must present judges their research findings and complete an activity that shows the judges they are a team capable of the utmost cooperation as part of a core value panel. This year, the panels and overall theme of the event was Space, so each presentation centered around problems in space and solutions devised by the students.
While some students find the robotics part of Robothrasher the most exciting, some students find the most enjoyment in the other panels. Orange Park Elementary sixth grader, 11-year-old Jane Weigand, loves every aspect of the event, but really shines during the core values panel.
During this panel, her team was tasked with bringing a helium-filled rod to the ground with a number of parameters making what would otherwise be an easy task a difficult one. After that, the team had to explain to judges how they became better at cooperating, which is part of the core values aspect of robotics.
While every student got a chance to speak, it was clear Weigand was the team leader. Not only did she speak authoritatively and precisely to the judges, she also ensured that during the presentation, her team remained a cohesive unit. Weigand said it’s her responsibility to show younger students on the team what good leadership can do for a team.
“I really appreciate being able to be on this team and being able to mentor the newer students because it reminds me of when I was new and how much I enjoyed it because of how the team leaders led,” Weigand said. “I just do my best to be more inclusive and kind to others because that’s of course part of our core values, but it’s also how people can be better to others.”
Weigand plans to continue participating in these STEM-focused extracurricular activities beyond elementary school. She wants to take it to college where she plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become a chemical engineer.
Weigand’s teacher and coach, Kimberly Rauth, said she sees no reason why Weigand won’t make these things happen. For her, that’s what STEM education and other robotics events are all about.
“All of this is part of STEM education, of course, and it serves as a way to help these kids become future leaders,” Rauth said. “We’re looking to build engineers and problem-solvers and above all that, students that can work effectively and collaboratively with their peers, no matter where their education takes them.”