Thirty teams of middle and high school students gathered to compete in the Hopkins Robotics Cup, the first championship for Baltimore City public school VEX robotics teams, held Saturday at Johns Hopkins University.
Unlike some VEX tournaments — including the annual world championship — that are inaccessible to many of Baltimore city’s public school teams due to insufficient funding for transportation and registration fees, the objective of the Hopkins Cup was to begin building an infrastructure for Baltimore-centered robotics by giving public school students a championship to aspire to in their own backyard.
Throughout the day, teams competed in “Sack Attack,” scoring points by piloting their robots to deposit bean bags into troughs and towers on the field — all while circumventing their opponents’ attempts to ‘de-score’ points by removing their goals.
Watch video of teams battling in Sack Attack:
This inaugural competition was the brainchild of Josh Gabrielse, who runs the Baltimore City Public Schools‘ robotics program, and Margaret Hart, the middle school STEM program manager at the Center for Education Outreach at Johns Hopkins‘ Whiting School of Engineering.
Bolstering the robotics program is about asking, “What can we do to capitalize on the excitement from the students?” said Jarrod Blote, director of Teacher Supports and Development for BCPS. This local tournament brought together teams with varying levels of experience, volunteers from undergraduate engineering programs and teachers who have dedicated innumerable hours coaching their students to success.
As Nicholas P. Jones, dean of the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, said, the tournament is a way to show Baltimore kids that engineering is about “discovery, learning … and building really cool stuff.”
Indeed, while robotics is like a traditional sporting event for many schools in the Baltimore area, it can also serve as a marketing tool for STEM programs within middle and high schools.
View a list of Hopkins Cup award winners at the end of this article.
While preparing the Bulldog Bots’ robot for battle, eighth grader Jordan Dixon of Curtis Bay Elementary Middle School explained that his interest in robotics was sparked from video games that made him “fascinated by the idea of being a unique creator.”
He and team member Matthew Driver said that their robot’s design has been revamped based on experience in past competitions. “I would consider it a game of anticipation,” said Dixon, who always expects certain challenges on the field. Teams spend all day troubleshooting and modifying their designs to match the competition.
Another Sack Attack match at the Hopkins Cup:
Looking forward, co-organizer Hart hopes that this competition is “the first of many” for Baltimore city students, and that the tournament can expand in subsequent years. Hart, who had been preparing for this event since last June, was particularly excited to see mentoring develop between middle and high school students and Hopkins undergraduates, who could provide an example for how to enter STEM fields.
“You can see the learning happen pretty much instantaneously,” she said, referring to the tournament and the formation of educational relationships.
Hart expressed thanks to her leadership team who assisted in acquiring funding (from AAI Textron Systems and the Abell Foundation, among others), and to all the volunteers who made the event possible.
RoboDoves captain Keimmie Booth attended the event as a volunteer and was proud to see improvement in many of the teams. “They’re ready to go to the next round,” she said, anticipating—hopefully—the growth of Baltimore city robotics and the emerging potential in this city’s public school.
Award winners at the Hopkins Robotics Cup:
- Volunteer of the Year: Margaret Strong
- Middle School Sportsmanship: Team Osprey of Francis Scott Key Elementary Middle School
- High School Sportsmanship: Team RoboDoves of Western High School
- Judges Award: Blossom Bots of Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women
- Create Award: Robo Web of W.E.B. DuBois High School
- Design Award: Bulldog Bots of Curtis Bay Elementary Middle School
- Robot Skills Champion: RoboDoves of Western High School
- Middle School Champions: Bulldog Bots of Curtis Bay Elementary Middle School and MB Team I of Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School and Cross Country
- High School Champions: RoboDoves of Western High School and Spinning Static of Patterson High School
- Middle School Excellence Award: Calverton Elementary Middle School
- High School Excellence Award: RoboDoves of Western High School