MADISON COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - The growing robotics program in the Madison County School District is winning more awards, and the competitors are getting younger.
The district sent teams from four schools this year -- Mannsdale Upper Elementary, Germantown Middle, Ridgeland High, and the Madison Career and Technical Center -- to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky. All four teams had to win a series of local and state competitions before becoming eligible even to compete, and the youngest team, comprised of three fifth-graders, brought home the Create Award.
It was the first time Mannsdale Upper Elementary had sent a team to the competition.
“It was nuts," says team member Kinsley Poole. “We saw all these teams there from all over the world. We saw people from New Zealand, and there was a team from Myanmar. A whole bunch of places."
The Create Award is given for the robot with the most creative engineering solution.
“The award is also for the strategic advantages we have and how we owe strategy and numbers and statistics to win," Poole adds.
She and teammates Ethan Knight and Skylar Thomas spent months designing and building their winning robot.
“It’s always gratifying to leave with a trophy,” says Mannsdale robotics teacher Sarah Noble. “The best part was that they had to collaborate with other teams to come up with strategies, and our kids had the opportunity to meet students from all around the world.”
With middle and high school still ahead, they have lots of options. Aiden Nelson, an eighth-grader at Germantown Middle, also went to the competition with his team’s robot. He plays football at Germantown but still finds time for robotics.
“I like mechanics and building things, so that’s why I’m interested in it," he says. He adds that it will only help his resume for college and beyond.
Bill Richardson teaches robotics at Ridgeland High, where a new class of graduates will be career-ready later this month.
“When they leave for graduation, they are FANUC certified, which is Nissan robotics," he says. “They are also ACT Work Key certified, which is a career-readiness certification, and many of them are testing for their CSWA, which is a SOLIDWORKS CAD certification.”
Not bad for a program that now starts early on the electives list and can look more fun than formative. In the end, it’s both.
“We’re teaching them those STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills, but we’re also teaching them life skills," says Jennifer Richardson, the school district’s robotics coordinator. "They’re learning communication, they’re strategizing with other teams, they’re problem-solving, they’re working through failures and moving to the next level. All those skills are preparing them for everything that they’re going to experience in the future.”
The materials and travel are not cheap, so the teachers depend on support from their principals, the school district, and parents.