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Robotics Competition Just Like the Super Bowl for Middle School Students

By Sue Moore

Students put pieces together to build the framework for the robot they hope to enter into the design contest for robotics. The robots will be on display during Science night early next year at the Vicksburg Middle School.

“Robotics is the Super Bowl for the kids who don’t play sports,” says Kevin Richards, volunteer coach for the Vicksburg Middle School students who have signed up for the club.

They scrimmage just like sports teams do and they have playoffs with the ultimate achievement to go to the state meet.  They are scored by how the robot moves on its own in a 30-second demo and how it moves using an X-box type of controller to drive the robot and maneuver it.  The requirements of the games are developed by the parent organization called First Robotics, that was founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway in the 1980s.

His mantra for developing the organization was to “transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heros.”

The meets go all day long as the teams build up points and at the end, pick an alliance partner for matches that are single elimination.  Last year, the Vicksburg team was fourth in competition for schools from the west side of Michigan.  This year there are 26 students from six, seventh and eigth grades with three girls participating.

The Vicksburg Middle School program has been in existence since 2011, when Steve Fryling a science teacher helped get a grant and acted as the liaison with school officials. The first year the team took second place at the state meet, and these students have now moved on to the high school where a new robotics club is being coached by Amanda Szczesny, an English teacher.

Richards says that about half of the middle school students he works with have never even seen a screw driver before, but they do catch up as they show a passion for the two nights a week the club meets and constructs their robots.  “Parents are required to help the kids, but what we really need are engineers from area firms to teach the mechanics of robotics and take the teaching to the next level,” Richards explains.

Coaches Scott Adler and Kevin Richards hold a robotics model that middle schoolstudents have been constructing. Not pictured is Pam Elliott, a grandmother of one of the children in the program, who works at Stryker on CAD projects. She comes in every week to help coach the computer part of building the robots.

They also need financial sponsors, since the grant was a one-time offer.  They have worked diligently to secure small donations from Summit Polymers, A-Kays Hair Design, Schupan Aluminum, W. Soule, Diocesan Publications, Exo-S U.S., LLC, T.R., and Meijer.  It costs close to $3,000 a year for the two teams of 10 to 12 kids, Richards says.  “The club holds its meetings at the school and we are grateful for use of the facilities.”

“When the ideas get flowing and the students get it, the results are stunning,” Richards comments with justified pride.

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