The kids on the VEX IQ teams at Grassy Creek Elementary School may be young, but they already have a good idea of what they want to be when they grow up. Answers range from scientist to dentist to the most popular answer, engineer, because, as one student said, "engineering is really fun."
With 19 kids split among three teams, the school has been to seven competitions this season and will be on their way to VEX IQ Worlds in Louisville next week, lead by their dedicated and energetic coaches, Dustin Ecker, Ryan Gammons, Andy Knies, and Capri Corwin. In speaking with the Grassy Creek coaches, you quickly understand why the students on this team are so excited about robotics. As Coach Ecker put it," we want the robotics program to ignite a passion for learning; our biggest goal is to build lifelong learners and problem-solvers in hopes that just maybe, these kids will be the future of engineering."
Although the students on all three of Grassy Creek's robotics teams - WolverineBots, BatBots, and HulkBots - are 1st year robotics competitors, each team has proven to be quite a force to be reckoned with. And robotics isn't all they do - most of the students participate in other activities like basketball, baseball, Math Bowl, Spell Bowl, soccer, lacrosse, jujitsu, and football - however, when schedules interfere, most students will choose robotics over other activities. As one 4th grader put it, "Robotics has more to offer than football. In football, you don't really use your brain that much."
These students are certainly using their collective brain power on the robot field, and the results have been impressive! Eli, Hannah, Jala, Jocelyn, Natalie, and Raylen, the six students making up the WolverineBots team, were crowned Teamwork Champions at four different competitions this year for their top ranked robot performance. This group of 3rd and 4th graders are well-spoken, respectful, and driven to succeed, with a straightforward approach to delegating roles for each team member.
"I tried driving but realized I wasn't too good at it," said Jocelyn, who is a designer and researcher for the team. "But I like writing, drawing and presenting so I decided to be a researcher and make our robot sketches in our engineering notebook." Jocelyn joins Hanna as the primary researchers for the team. These two are absolutely essential to the team winning an Excellence Award earlier this year and receiving the opportunity to compete in all areas at Worlds. The Excellence Award is the top honor of each competition. These girls have worked tirelessly to put together a sound research project and develop a strong design notebook!
When it was time to decide on drive teams, Jala and Natalie became a driving duo, using practice time to hone their skills. Natalie's ability to quickly park and balance on the bridge and Jala's skills in driving and scoring led the two to formulate their winning strategy - Jala drives first, scoring as many points as possible, then hands off the controls so Natalie can seal the deal on the bridge before the final buzzer. There's also a second team of drivers for the Wolverines - Raylen and Eli - who naturally work well together as well. Raylen and Eli found their stride with driving and are an essential part of the many teamwork awards the Wolverines have won. These boys equally share driving rounds with Natalie and Jala and often alternate rounds during the qualifications rounds. These four know the teamwork challenge is a complete team effort and their support of one another is inspiring.
In the moment, the girls rely on one another's encouragement and coaching. "During the matches she reminds me what buttons to hit and gives me tips and advice," Jala says of Natalie's competition coaching. "Sometimes I even get mad because she's not telling me what to do! But we always make up really quickly as soon as the match is over."
The team didn't start the season as the powerhouse they are now. Jala was quick to explain that they didn't even make it to the finals during their first competition, fueling them to watch the winning teams' robots and take notes so they could later modify their robot to make it better. At their second competition they made it into the finals, but still didn't place at the top, so it was back to the drawing board during practice. Finally, during their third competition of the season, they made it to the finals and were part of the winning alliance - ultimate success! It was an experience that taught them the real-world meaning of the mantra "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." In fact, that mentality helped the girls compete and win during the final matches at the two biggest events in the state - in front of a HUGE audience and under a lot of pressure - the IndyVRC and the VEX IQ Elementary State Championship.
The kids on Wolverines, along with their friends on BatBot and HulkBot, have amassed 12 awards this year. This would not be possible with out the strengths that students from all teams bring to the group at Grassy Creek. The three teams have collaborated, shared ideas between teams, and provided practice and competition tips to one another for nearly 8 months.
Now the whole team needs to keep that mindset as they head off to Louisville, Kentucky, for the biggest competition of their short robotics careers: the VEX IQ Robotics World Championship. They'll be competing against 280 of the best teams from around the world, with over 30 countries represented. "Honestly, our goal for Worlds is simply to enjoy the opportunity,"explains Coach Ecker, "We are going there aiming to make the finals, place in the Top 20 if at all possible. However, we know that Worlds means the absolute best of the best. We are bound to have some incredible rounds but there's always a good chance that something will go terribly wrong at some point - and that's okay."
Although humble, the team seems ready. They even hosted additional practices during their school's spring break to prepare. But at the end of the day, win or lose, what will they do after the match?
"Shake hands and give everyone a group hug!"
Sounds like a winning strategy to us.