Students learn STEM can be fun
Local middle school and high school students are learning STEM can be fun by taking a page out of science fiction and making it a reality.
Through partnerships with the Great Plains Technology Center, students at St. Mary's Catholic School, MacArthur High School and Eisenhower High School have spent the past academic year building robots as part of the VEX Robotics program. While the bots only stand a few feet tall and certainly aren't on the verge of taking over the world, they represent an opportunity for students to discover a passion they may have never known.
"This is definitely something I want to continue doing next year," said Cadence Edenburn, a seventh-grader at St. Mary's. "It started out kind of complicated, but it's gotten easier since we started and I love doing it."
Edenburn is part of the only team of middle school students from the area competing this weekend at the VEX Robotics Oklahoma Championship in Shawnee. The competition began Friday and concludes today and will crown a state winner, which will be eligible to go to the national championship and possibly world championship later this year. Brian Morris, St. Mary's coach and STEM teacher, said he's confident about his team's chances to make a good showing among the older and more experienced and better funded VEX Robotics programs.
"We're easily in the top 10 in middle schools across the state," Morris said. "I would also say we're better than half the high school teams in the state. For a group of seventh-graders, that's a real accomplishment."
Students were tasked with creating a robot of original design that can compete in the game "In the Zone." The robots must work to pick up and stack various cones for points. The higher the stack, the more points the team receives. Teams are paired in alliances for two-on-two combat in a 20-foot-by-20-foot arena, which can make for tight quarters. The robot has to be able to move and stack quickly and endure punishment from other robots.
Students at St. Mary's only have a short time to participate in the Robotics Club, which fields the teams each year. They learn about designing, building and programming the robots in STEM classes and can use those skills in the extracurricular club. Much of the work is done after school hours, but it's a challenge seventh-grader Cecila Tanner accepts.
"It's been challenging, but fun," she said. "We have to do the programming, which is the hardest part. Getting all those distances right and getting all that programmed is stressful, but fun."
The students are confident their hard work will pay off at Shawnee.
"We got second place in the last tournament we were in," Edenburn said. "It's going to be a challenge for us, but it will be fun."
Fellow student and club member Chiara Thompson said she was looking forward to the tournament with mixed emotions. All the competitors want to succeed and do well, but they admit to being a little afraid of what happens if something goes awry.
"There's a lot of nerves involved, but I'm excited," she said. "I'm just scared of how it will feel if we go down there and mess up."