Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, students at 16 local elementary and middle schools have been competing their way toward a final robotics tournament, held by the Jefferson County school …
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Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, students at 16 local elementary and middle schools have been competing their way toward a final robotics tournament, held by the Jefferson County school district. Qualifying hasn’t been easy for students in the robotics clubs, who have gotten together during club meetings and sometimes during recess as they’ve prepared to go head-to-head with other Jeffco students.
After students qualified through a number of preliminary tournaments, they were looking forward to a final district tournament March 14. But with a district-wide decision made March 13 to postpone in-person learning because of the coronavirus, that final tournament wound up being canceled as well.
“There was so much sadness and some tears when kids realized they weren’t going to be able to compete,” said Andi Johnson, digital teacher librarian at Fairmount Elementary in Golden. “We are left with seven robots ready for a tournament that will not be.”
However, after months in a club all about persevering through obstacles and challenges, the students are now focused on how they can improve for next year, as well as looking back on the highlights of this year.
“I felt really bad it was canceled, but told myself that I could join the club next year,” said Fairmount fourth-grader Ian Boeckman. “I liked building the robot and I want to make up for the tournament we didn’t get to go to.”
For Boeckman and his teammates, fourth-graders Edward Sum and Evan Warren, focusing on next year begins with reflecting on a process of improvement that began with this year’s initial tournaments. The competitions ask students to use remote controls to have their robots navigate an arena, picking up cubes or balls and placing them on top of different structures.
The Fairmount students have been making improvements to their robot after each tournament, from changing the wheels to adding new modifications they have won at competitions.
“We kept improving,” Sum said, until the team ultimately received an award — the `Excellence Award’ — which was “the best part of robotics this year,” he said.
Likewise, at West Woods Elementary in Arvada, chances to improve have helped the students to learn new life skills, said fourth-grade students Oliver Nations and Ram Yalavarthy.
“Discussing different options and working together helped me and my teammates build a better robot,” Yalavarthy said. “I have also learned that things can go wrong unexpectedly and robots can fall apart but if we stay calm, we can work together to fix anything.”
While Yalavarthy and Nations did not qualify for this year’s finals, they are sad for their friends who missed out on the tournament — and hopeful that all of them will get another shot next year.
“I do plan to be part of the club next year,” Nations said. “I’m excited to build a new robot because I feel more confident with my two years of experience in the Vex Robotics program.”
As fun as the competing aspect of the club has been, Warren added the club also offers academic and social benefits.
“It’s a good opportunity if you want to be an engineer and a good opportunity to make friends. It’s a club that all kids can be a part of,” Warren said. “It’s an awesome idea they’re actually doing this in Jeffco schools.”
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