How do you solve a problem with a robot? That’s the question local students are answering every Monday night at the Mid-America Science Park (MASPark). Scott County School Districts 1 and 2, Crothersville Elementary and MASPark partnered in 2016 to bring robotics to Scottsburg, and the programs have certainly “made a splash.”
More than 30 elementary and middle school robotic teams competed in January at the regional VEX IQ Crossover Robotic Challenge held at MASPark. In April, Scott County students participating in the after-school program had the opportunity to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ky. Ray Niehaus, MASPark managing director of innovation & technology, volunteered as an inspector and STEM judge.
“There were 47 countries at VEX World,” said Niehaus. “The students had an opportunity to see that kids around the world are learning the same robotics skills they are learning in Scott County.”
Indiana, with more than 460 school teams, leads the U.S. in participation, and the teams are excelling not only locally, but also internationally. The Immanuel Warriors of Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour, Ind., took home the gold at the regional competition in Scottsburg and went on to place fourth in the world in Louisville.
There are roughly 80 students currently participating in Scott County, working and competing in teams of four to 10. Some of the VEX challenges require two teams to work together as an alliance. While robotics is a fun activity for students and their families, they are learning important lifelong skills at the same time.
“There are so many facets, from critical thinking to mechanical and electrical skills to programming,” said Niehaus. “Young people from an early age need to understand the role robotics will play as part of the workforce.”
Local employers agree and are enhancing the program with real-world applications. Samtec, for example, plans to incorporate artificial intelligence vehicles (AIVs) into its future workforce. Using simulations at MASPark, students build robots that complete some of the same tasks as the AIVs.
Scott County will host five VEX events in the 2017-18 competition year. Local teachers also have an opportunity to learn more about robotics and programming during a professional development program at MASPark this summer.
In addition to VEX, Scott County School District 2 students participate in SeaPerch, an innovative underwater robotics program that allows students to build Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Students build underwater ROVs that can dive 35 feet using soldering skills and a kit that includes PVC, relays, microcontrollers, switches and electric motors.
The SeaPerch curriculum teaches basic STEM and robotics concepts with a marine engineering theme. Students practiced after school at the YMCA and ran an underwater obstacle course during Scott County Community Day on May 18. The program, typically for middle and high school students, is offered to fourth graders in Scott County.
“It’s really amazing to see what our students are capable of regardless of their age or skill level when they enter the program,” said Niehaus. “The door is open, and we’re excited to see what the future brings.”
For more information, contact Ray Niehaus at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-752-9521 x1239.