St. Vrain Valley Schools have hosted 17 robotics tournaments this school year and many students are now preparing for the state robotics competitions in early March.
“This season, we’ve had 214 teams throughout St. Vrain — Grades 3 to 12, and about 850 students,” said Alexandra Downing, the district’s robotics program manager. “It’s like a school.”
The district uses the VEX Robotics program to organize its many robotics clubs, which usually meet a couple of times a week after school. VEQ IQ is the program for younger students, who start working with plastic robotics parts, and older students work with VEX EXP metal assembly pieces.
“We’re able to meet with the robotics coaches and help get them started, and we give them some money to buy the materials,” Downing said. “We have a mentor program for teachers so they can learn how to guide the students through their robotics season.”
Each team — which includes around three or four students — attends several tournaments each season.
“They learn how to build a robot, they learn how to write down their journey in an engineering notebook, and then they learn how to program their robot,” Downing said. “They write down their steps, their journey, what went well, what went wrong, how can they fix it.”
The elementary school teams don’t work against each other in the tournaments — they have to collaborate with the other teams to get as many points as possible, Downing explained.
“They really learn how to communicate with their peers on what’s going on,” she said. “As they get older, there’s still that collaboration because they’re on the same team, but the next level is they go against two other teams … it’s just that bigger stage, but there’s still that collaboration within the teams.”
High school students help to run the local tournaments, and community members are chosen to judge the tournaments, and they interview each team.
“They get to hear from the kids, who get to tell their story — and their team’s story — and the judges go back and look at their notebooks,” Downing said. “The kids can get awards, and some of those awards qualify them for the state championship.”
Nearly two dozen St. Vrain elementary school teams are registered for the state tournament, which is set to be held March 11 in the district. Around 32 St. Vrain middle and high school teams are registered for the higher-level state competition, which is scheduled for March 4 in Denver.
Students are busy preparing for the tournaments, Downing said.
“They’re fine tuning their robots — there’s going to be some changes, some iterations they’ll make, but they’re really probably practicing their driving skills, and working with each other and maintaining their robot and making sure it’s sturdy for states.”
Students then have a chance at advancing to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas. One St. Vrain team — from Longmont High School — has already qualified for the world tournament after the group attended the Kalahari Classic competition in Ohio, Downing said.