Macon-Bibb County Robotics Gears Up For Another Year

As the new school year swings back into action, so do student clubs and activities. Robotics clubs are making a strong return this year throughout several Macon-Bibb County public schools.

Robotics teams in the schools are based on the concept of STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Students learn to design, build, and program robots to compete.

Macon Robotics club picture
RoboBibb wins first place in the Georgia robotics competition and made it to the quarter finals in a national competition in Houston, Texas. Photo by Carole Myers.

During the 2016-2017 school year, RoboBibb, the public high school robotics team, won first place in the state of Georgia robotics championship in Athens. The students went on to compete in the FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas, against students from around the globe. They made it to the quarterfinals with their robot, Sandman.

The team’s success has inspired new goals for the 2017-2018 school year.

Kyle Hicks was a member of the RoboPandas, the robotics team at Vineville Academy of the Arts, one of Bibb County’s public elementary schools. Last year, he was a builder for the RoboPandas and he also assisted with research for the team. After participating in the different levels of competition, he says he learned more about engineering and logical thought applications. Now Kyle is even considering a STEM-based career.

The RoboPandas performed well at various competitions last year, and they made it to the state level competition.

Competing at state was Kyle’s favorite memory of last year. “It was fun, fast-paced, and filled with high expectations,” he remembers. He enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and valued the experience of competing with his friends.

His parents also showed support for the club and encourage other kids to get involved in robotics.

Kyle’s father, Kevin Hicks, agreed that the state level competition was a major accomplishment for both his son and Vineville Academy. He says that Kyle has learned and experienced several things through participation in the elementary school’s club, including team building, humility, and the feeling of accomplishment.

Mr. Hicks also explained the importance of involving our community’s youth in STEM activities: “Our children all need to experience engineering and robotics training. Many of our youth are kinesthetic learners who require more hands-on application versus theoretical training,” he explained, “This allows the brain to operate at a much higher level of logical processing and reasoning.”

“In my opinion,” Mr. Hicks continued, “children who are immersed in activities, such as video gaming. that require them to use their brains actively learn much more in a shorter period of time. The RoboPandas demonstrated this methodology by providing an opportunity for young children to experience a high level of technology while having fun at the same time.”

Leslie Brown, who coached the RoboPandas to state competition last year, also suggests getting more young children involved in robotics. She has coached elementary school level robotics for seven years throughout both Alexander II and Vineville Academy, two of Macon’s public magnet schools. She has also served as a mentor for several additional teams.

“First Lego League robotics is an amazing program to get kids and schools excited about STEM-based learning,” said Brown. “Students on the team compete through putting their minds to work and solving problems with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Add in Legos and robots, and it becomes an exciting program everyone wants to support, and a team that young students dream to be a part of.”

This year Ms. Brown will return to Alexander II to coach the RoboSTEINS together with Cheryl Sjoquist. She is looking forward to another very successful year of competition.

The Macon-Bibb County public high schools also have a successful robotics team. However, instead of each high school having their own club, members from several high schools compete as one team. Last year’s state championship team included students from Central High School, Howard High School, and Rutland High School, as well as the Academy for Classical Education.

Lea and Nicholas Walker are students at Central High School in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and members of the high school robotics team. They explained that there are several departments inside the team with separate jobs: mechanical, electrical, programming, marketing, and the drive team.

The students who work on the robot’s design are part of the mechanical team. The people working on circuit board and making the robot work overall are part of the electrical group. The job of the programmers is to ensure the electrical connections work with both mechanical and wireless controls. The marketing department secures sponsors for the team and during competitions they “scout” other teams to record the strengths and weaknesses of each competing team’s robot. The drive team consists of the operator of the robot, a captain who acts as a strategist, and human players for the individual games or challenges.

Eventually all the departments come together to form a functional, competition-worthy robot.

The Walkers also explained the varying levels of competition. The team starts competing at a district competition, and if ranked high enough, the team advances to the state competition. The Macon-Bibb County team placed first at state, which meant they competed at the FIRST Championship, which robotics team members call “Worlds.”

Worlds is an international robotics competition held in Houston, Texas. The high school team worked very hard and made it all the way to the quarter finals of the international competition. Nicholas and Lea, along with the rest of the robotics team, are optimistic of this year’s competition season and another chance to go to Worlds.

Carole Myers coaches the robotics team for high school. She acknowledges that not only do the students learn about the direct skills involved with running the robots, but they also learn the life lessons of time management, learning to prioritize, and how to work with “different personalities coming together for a common purpose.” These skills will help students for all aspects of their current and future lives.

Community involvement in supporting the team is a large part of what helps make the team so accomplished, as adult mentors from different fields assist the students in the development of the robot, and several companies sponsor the team.

“We are deeply appreciative for all of the community interest and support for our program. It feels good to be part of a team that has represented our district to the state and to the world in such an overwhelmingly positive way,” Myers concludes.

For more information about robotics in the Macon-Bibb County public schools, please call (478) 765-8711 or visit online at bcsdk12.net. If you are interested in providing expertise or sponsorships to RoboBibb, please contact sponsor Carole Myers by email at carole.myers@bcsdk12.net or by calling (478) 779-4904.

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