More than 200 students packed into the 4H-FFA Home Arts Building on the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium for a Robotics Olympiad on Wednesday. The olympiad, in which rising fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders were broken up into 120 different teams, featured groups of students using robots they built to duke it out in timed competitions. The objective? Use clawed arms attached to their robots to hoist bean bags into troughs and towers suspended 20 to 30 inches off the ground.
Here’s video of one of the matches.
The competition was the culminating event in the students’ “Create the Solution” VEX Robotics program. A part of the Baltimore City Public School system’s Summer Jump summer-learning initiative, the five-week robotics program had students assembling their own robots piecemeal through the month of July.
“The robots are progressively built,” says Bryan Thomas, a middle school science teacher at Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School in the Riverside neighborhood, just south of Federal Hill. “The first week, they constructed the drive trains and chassis. Second week, the appendages were added.”
Thomas says putting their robots together over the course of a few weeks afforded students “the opportunity to see what works and doesn’t work.” While students were assembling their robots, they kept handwritten logs with diagrams showing their robots at various stages of completion.
Students were also tasked with learning basic, C+ programming, as well as operator control and autonomous programming, in order to get the miniature machines mobile.
This is the third year the Robotics Olympiad was held in the 4H-FFA Home Arts Building, and the first year it was supported financially by Investing in Innovation funding (otherwise known as I3 grants) from the federal government, says Casey Thomas, the coordinator for the Take 10 Saturday Learning Program for Baltimore City Public Schools who also helped coordinate Wednesday’s event. (She is not related to Bryan Thomas.) The grant, Thomas says, lasts for three years, and the goal is to gradually add more students to the summer robotics program. Three years from now, she hopes nearly 600 students will be participating in the Robotics Olympiad.