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VEX Worlds Recap: iPueo Robotics Team

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Branden Hazlet, Director of Technology for Maui Prep, shares with us his team’s experience at the 2015 VEX Worlds Championship in Louisville, KY!

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imageIt was a wonderful learning and exploring experience for our Maui students to participate with students from 29 countries in the VEX World robotics championships. Seeing hard working students from so many cultures coming together to cooperate in using intriguing technology was something wonderful. The student teams from across the world clearly felt honored to participate in such a massive gathering of clever young minds, an unparalleled gathering of student intellect in a massive 1.2 million square foot facility. That is roughly 200 football fields worth of great learning happening at the same time. As a culture, we honor the hard work of athletic teams with fanfare regularly, but it is something too rare that we honor our bright young minds in such a way that reflects their importance for leading the future. The Vex World Championships uses an intriguing model sometimes called coop-ertition — meaning that in every event there is a premium put on working with alliance teams. There is little chance of success in these events without a high degree teamwork within your own team, but of equal importance is cooperation across many partnerships with other teams. It is a model that ensures our students’ robotics experience is about more than robots…it is about working with other students. Beyond the coop-ertition of live robotics matches, teams must present an Engineering justification which documents their robotics build through multimedia and writing as well as through an oral presentation of student’s design thinking / structural reasoning. Then there is also an Autonomous robotics element where an emphasis is put on programming skills by doubling point awards for scoring that can be completed entirely by the robot running pre-coded programs with the use of sensors for direction, distance, light color, etc. Through all these elements, balancing the the human interactions with the technical knowledge, a model of education emerges that brings out the whole package of real world skills our students need to thrive in a changing world. And the best part…the students are just having a great time through it all…

image-3Our students spent a great week immersed in dynamic teamwork, creative challenges, technical puzzles, multicultural communication, planning and practicing strategies with alliance teams, rapid-fire as well as big-picture time management, resource management, interpersonal diplomacy, recovery from setbacks, getting right back to work after successes, identifying and depending on each other’s strengths, helping balance each other’s needs, constantly practicing, improvising, analyzing, prototyping, redesigning, finding consensus, stepping back from disagreement, stepping forward together …. Intense learning was going on across so many levels. The atmosphere of competition, total stimulation, constantly shifting team alliances and language challenges for communication all really put the emotional maturity expected of middle school students to the test…and it was satisfying to see we had given our Maui students the skills to rise to those challenges. We had matches with several teams from South America and Asia where the other teams spoke only a few words of English at best, some none at all. Between our students and the international students the teams managed to communicate their robot strengths, assess each other’s abilities then formulate a specific plan for making highly coordinated moves while continually giving each other feedback on positioning and making adjustments to the plan throughout the match. Thinking and communication skills that have been developed in years of parenting and education were called on for our students’ efforts. Thanks to all who have shaped these kids over the years. They have so much potential and such bright futures.

image-2Here is a quote from the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, which puts on the World Championships: “These students spent countless hours designing, building, programming and testing their robots over the course of the season at more than 1,000 local, state, and regional competitions (with participation from over 12,000 teams worldwide),” said Jason Morrella, President of the REC Foundation. “The truth is that all of these students leave the competition as winners. The teamwork and problem-solving skills they take away from this experience will successfully prepare them for future careers in STEM fields and serve them throughout their lives.”

For middle school students, beyond the STEM skills of technical and strategic optimization for competition, the ‘learning’ certainly extended to self-discipline and maturity dynamics…Staying focused, managing emotions, following through on directions/plans and keeping a positive tone in talking to each other despite stress were things the students became more aware of working on. As a middle school team the juggling of information streams, technical info along with the social processing and attentional demands despite so much stimulation are key parts of their developmental growth. These students certainly stepped their game up and grew through the experience. I think they have come back from this experience with a bit more capacity for directing their attention and managing themselves in a big pond; it is fair to say we have high expectations to push ourselves to new levels.

image-4For me, there were some super colleagues and coaches to watch in action and make connections with. Amazing high school and university teams for inspiration….as well as some middle school teams that were setting high water marks that expanded what I thought was possible for 12-14 year olds.

Out of the thousands of teams that competed this season, only 105 teams qualified for the VexIQ World Championship event. Maui Prep’s students worked hard to be among those teams and our iPueo’s final rankings, after a roller coaster of some early nerves, hitting stride mid-competition, then some hard fought last rounds where we earned both our lowest to our highest scores in the final two matches, gave us the following rankings:

Programming Skills / Autonomous – 21st in World Championships
Robotic Operations / Driver Skills – 21st in World Championships
Robot Team Work Skills – 33rd in World Championships

…Our goal was to take Maui Prep into the ranking of the top 30 middle schools in the world, so we hit the mark in two judged competitions, but missed by a small margin in the third category.

ipueo collageBeyond the rankings, our students from this little tropical island gained huge experience in competing at the world level, interacting on a technical and human level with many cultures, and working as a cooperative team with well known classmates as well as strangers. I think it is safe to say these students return to Maui as more mature young people with broader perspectives of than when they left two weeks ago.

I am proud of their effort, proud of their growth, proud of their accomplishment and proud of their potential as we look to take these 6th and 7th graders into next year’s season as 7th and 8th graders. One of the event highlights was the announcement of the new 2016 robotics challenge, along with new hardware and software releases which got the team pumped and creatively talking about next year’s robot design.

To have a little school from the pineapple fields of Maui competing with the world’s best in robotics was a great feeling of genuinely helping our kids prepare for dynamic futures in this changing economy where both intercultural and technical skills are required. Our students and school have definitely grown through this experience of participation in our first World Championship.

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Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

May 12th, 2015 at 9:10 am