Robotics Competition Allows Students to Apply STEM Skills

Ohio schools are showing off their STEM skills by hosting and competing in regional competitions.

by Ciara Conley, The Portsmouth Daily Times, Ohio / January 11, 2017 0

(TNS) — With the increasing technology industry, there is always a need for engineers, scientists and other technically-minded individuals to lead the way on innovation and invention. Schools across the nation are shifting focus to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) based education to generate interest and grow careers in the industry.

On Saturday, students from all over the tri-state area gathered at the Scioto County Career and Technical Center (SCCTC) for the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth Southeast Regional Robotics competition, to show that they've mastered STEM education through robotics.

This year marks the first year that Scioto Tech has participated in the competition and the first year they have hosted. Scioto Tech is the only facility between West Virginia and Marietta to host a regional competition, bringing more opportunities for career centers and high schools to compete in competitions with minimal travel.

By its nature, the study of competitive robotics not only encompasses all four pillars of STEM education, but also encourages important skills like teamwork, communication, and project-based organization.

"We have some students that have a stronger coding and programming background so that's the area that they focus on. Some are more focused on mechanical design, so they'll draw the blueprints," explained Scioto Tech engineering teacher, Ryan Keaton. "We have mechanically inclined students who go through and build and set everything up. It requires a lot of team work because the coders have to know what the builders are doing to get it all set-up and vice-versa. If one aspect doesn't communicate with another, then the whole thing doesn't work."

Each year, the teams are presented with a new challenge. Based on the challenge, students have to build their robot to execute specific tasks as efficiently as possible. The robots are scored on performance and design.

"The way the match is set-up is, you have four robots competing in an area at once, two on each team. This years competition is called 'Star-Struck,' there are star shaped game pieces and cube pieces, essentially, it's like volleyball, each team has to move as many game pieces as they can to the other side until the time runs out. The team that has the fewest objects on their side is the winner," said Keaton.

Not only do the robots have to be built to perform tasks, but there are design specifications as well. Each robot has to be the size of an eighteen inch cube prior to the match.

"Everything on your robot has to compact down to meet the size requirement, then they have to be able to expand out to whatever size. It's tough to design a robot to fit everything in that small footprint to start with. The students have spent quite a bit of time doing research going through and looking at structural design, gear ratios and all these different things to make their robots and fast as possible and as strong as possible," explained Keaton.

Over 30 teams made the trip to Lucasville to participate, nine of which come from Scioto County. Three teams from the Scioto Tech engineering program, three from South Webster and three from Northwest. The South Webster and Northwest classrooms are all a part of the satellite program offered through Scioto Tech.

"Of course this is the first year we've ever done anything like this," said Parker Williams. Williams is a junior from South Webster. "Starting out we just watched a lot of YouTube videos, just brainstorming and trying to come up with ideas. We sat down and drew out sketches of everything we wanted to do, from there we just started putting things together to see what worked and what didn't work. It was a lot of trial and error really."

Teams ranged from middle school students, to high school seniors, advanced competitors and first-timers, all with the same goal -- to make it to state.

"I really don't think age matters in this type of competition," said sixth grade student, Ashwin Ratora. Ratora and her teammates ranged from sixth to eighth grade, representing Bellfontaine Middle School. "We're not imitated by the older players. It just matters whether or not you can do it. We might not have as much expertise right now, but we can get used to the competition and really see what works for the other teams and keep building on that so by the time we're in high school we'll really know what we're doing. Just being here today, we've already come up with new ways to improve for next time."

The teams that will advance to the VEX state competition are: Pickerington Central High School, Tri-Rivers Career Center, and Bellefontaine High School.

The Design and Excellence award went to Pickerington Central High School and Hillsboro Middle School.

Students interested in the Engineering program at Scioto Tech can find more information online at www.sciototech.org or by calling 740-259-5522.

©2017 The Portsmouth Daily Times (Portsmouth, Ohio), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.