Local Students Learn Valuable Lessons Through the VEX IQ Robotics League
Kevin Kemper, principal and parent at Indian Creek Elementary, says the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township VEX IQ elementary robotics league has been a big hit because it teaches valuable skills for success.
The coaches have also been a key to the program’s success.
“Our VEX IQ coaches come from all Lawrence Township schools, and most are classroom teachers,” Kemper says. “Bruce Nelson, who manages the league, has been teaching robotics and design at Indian Creek since 2016.”
A robotics team needs a lot of different skills to be successful according to Kemper.
“During a tournament, the students need to communicate with the other teams to develop a strategy on how to work best together,” he says. “By themselves, the team is challenged to go solo on the field and show what they can do without any help – not only with human drivers, but also autonomously, with just a programmed robot.”
This year’s challenge required the programmed robot to move objects into a center goal or a high goal, each worth different points. At the end, the robots had to hang on a pole, all in one minute.
The teams also keep an engineering notebook to record their process. On the day of the tournament they are interviewed by the judges about their robot and how they worked together.
“As you can see, there are a variety of skills needed, not just building and driving robots,” Kemper says. “Teams range from only two students to more than 20, each working together, and each sharing the skills they have and have learned. It’s mostly just perseverance and a willingness to fail.”
The league started as a simple idea to get robots in the hands of teachers at every school, gather informally to practice, and allow students to learn from each other.
“That is still the goal, but from just a few schools that already had robots and teachers comfortable with the technology, it has grown to over 200 students from first to sixth grades learning together through a challenging competition,” Kemper says. “After just two years we had outgrown our venue, and needed to look at other options. One benefit that can’t be ignored is that the teachers involved gain confidence and are much more comfortable with using the engineering design process, therefore integrating what they have learned into their classrooms. The impact goes beyond just the teams.”
Each school is different regarding requirements in getting involved in the VEX IQ program.
“Some will take kids as low as first grade,” Kemper says. “Indian Creek takes students from third to sixth grade. Any student can apply. All they need to do is fill out an application. We schedule a day for tryouts to determine who to put together as our teams. Sometimes the best fit is students all in the same grade. Other times it may be having a team of all girls. Most of the time, a mix works best.”
Kemper notes that the Lawrence Township VEX IQ league allows any student at any school, regardless of financial need, to get hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“They learn basic engineering and computer science skills,” he says. “Like any team, they also learn how to work together to meet a common goal. With VEX IQ, the students also get to meet students from all over the township and work with them during a tournament, since alliances are random. Personally, I like having a competition that celebrates creativity more than physical prowess. So many times, those students are left out.”
Kemper says the state VEX IQ championship will be held on March 12 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Volunteers are wanted. The world championship will be held in Dallas, Texas, in late April.
In January, 30 teams representing all 11 Lawrence Township elementary schools gathered at Indian Creek Elementary.
“There are different pieces that make up a tournament,” Kemper says. “The one part that all teams participate in is teamwork matches. On January 22, each team had nine. Each match is one minute, and consists of both teams working together to get the highest score.”
Throughout the day teams also had an opportunity to test their skills on the field solo.
“There are three driver’s runs and three autonomous runs,” Kemper says. “The highest score for each of those attempts are totaled to create the overall skills score for that team. The team with the highest score at the end of the day is awarded the Skills Champion Award.”
Judges review engineering design notebooks, and interview teams to determine the team that has best documented their growth during the season.
“The skills runs and design notebook are not required, and coaches can decide what they want to focus on,” Kemper says. “Usually new coaches focus on teamwork matches and driver’s skills runs. As the students and coaches gain experience, they add a design notebook and programming.”
A team must participate in everything to be considered for the Excellence Award. At the end of the day, with 144 matches finished, the top 10 teams compete in the finals. The alliances are determined by average score, with the ninth and tenth teams being paired.
“Each alliance gets one chance to score as high as they can and take home the Teamwork Champion Award,” Kemper says. “Finally, everything from the day, which includes notebook, interview, skills and teamwork matches, is combined, and the Excellence Award is determined.”
In late January, Skiles Test Elementary won the Judges Award, and Sunnyside Elementary won the Design Award. Indian Creek Elementary won as Skills Champion. The Teamwork Champions were the Crestview Botcats and Oaklandon Eagles, with an overall score of 44 points. Indian Creek Elementary won the Excellence Award.