Robotics teams throughout Crown Point Community School Corporation are having another amazing season. The district has more than 20 teams which begin as early as second grade and continue through high school. Sixteen of those teams have qualified to compete in the upcoming state championship.
Skills learned through robotics translate into many subject areas and provide a strong STEM education foundation. Taft Middle School coach Rachel Walker is also a parent of a Crown Point High School graduate who participated in robotics. “The skills my son developed in robotics have been integral to building his self-esteem, giving him experience in his field and helping him hone his leadership skills,” Walker said.
CPHS robotics coach Matt LeBlanc shared that robotics is a place where many students can showcase a variety of skills. “Robotics is the ultimate expression of STEM principles. As a teacher it is fulfilling to see students, totally unprompted, using the whiteboard to complete free body diagrams and to work through trigonometry problems in order to solve unique problems. Since the robots will accept block (Basic) all the way through C++(Advanced) coding, robotics is also a place for students at all levels in Computer Science to shine. Students with a passion for English classes also find a home in robotics. The Engineering Notebook (a detailed recording of the process of designing and building the robot) makes teams eligible for judged awards, including the Excellence Award, which is the top award given at a competition,” LeBlanc said.
Here’s a rundown of team performances so far this season:
Crown Point High School:
Eight teams made from 41 students comprise the largest group of VEX students in Coach Matt LeBlanc’s time at CPHS. “This is a testament to the quality of the Crown Point elementary and middle school VEX IQ teams and their coaches,” LeBlanc said. The mentorship between students was a highlight of this year’s teams. “VEX has a rule that no coach should be directly involved with the building or programming of the robot, and I take this rule very seriously,” LeBlanc said. “Adhering to this rule empowers the older students to become the experts and really drive the direction for our teams.” CPHS has earned multiple awards and tournament championships this season that qualified three teams for the state competition.
Taft Middle School:
Taft competed with six teams this season. Team E won the Excellence Award, Teamwork Award and the Skills Award in February. Team Z received a Teamwork Award during league play, and Teams A and D qualified for state with high skills scores. Coach Rachel Walker said her students have done an amazing job adapting to the space constraints in the current Taft building. “There are no longer any extra classrooms for practice space,” Walker said. “Students had to focus on utilizing their time wisely and sharing the board so that every team had sufficient practice time. We were able to fit 6 robots, a competition field, 30 students and 2 coaches in one room and see significant success!” The new Taft Middle School building, which is currently under construction, will include expanded space for STEM activities.
Col. Wheeler Middle School:
The Byting Bulldogs received 10 awards so far this competition season and two bids to the state competition. Coaches Michael Early and Jennifer Pineda noted that their teams are made of a variety of students who each lend their individual skills and talents. Beyond STEM skills, they said that students also learn important life skills “to honorably celebrate victories and graciously accept defeats while being proud of their classmates.” Pineda and Early are proud that the teams have learned to not give up when “things get hard and confusing.”
Coaches Ashley Legg and Emily Hanas were worried Eisenhower’s team may not be able to compete this year without a coach. However, they jumped in with enthusiasm despite what Legg describes as ‘limited experience.’ The Eagle Bots won the Judge’s Award for Exemplary Sportsmanship at the South Newton/Kentland competition. “Our students learned to work together as a team and learned the value of sportsmanship and camaraderie,” Legg said. The team finished the season with strong scores at the Wheeler competition in Crown Point.
The Winfield Elementary Robocats are a team made up entirely of 2nd grade students. Because Winfield is a K-2 school, there is a new team each year, and students have no previous robotics experience. Coaches Wendy Royal and Kim Sassman say that the students never let the age difference or lack of experience deter them from accomplishing their goals. As proof of that, the team recently placed 5th out of 48 teams at the Wheeler tournament, which also includes middle school teams. “We are working hard at Winfield to bring robotics, and STEM education in general, to a younger population and prove that any age can take part and excel,” Sassman said. “We may be small, but we can do many big things!”
Mac has four teams made up of 15 students who span third through fifth grade, including an all-girl team. Because of limitations with COVID last year, almost all of the students are first year robotics participants. Coach Sara Colvin praised her teams’ determination and hard work this season. “They started with basic push bot builds, barely earning any points (but learning a lot!), to averaging competitive scores. We have gone to four competitions this year and all teams made it to the finals matches in our last two tournaments,” Colvin said. All four teams received bids to the state championship in Indianapolis.