Students from Gilbert Elementary School in Lafayette are making waves in the field of robotics.

On Feb. 23 Gilbert’s VEX Robotics team traveled to Cummings, Ga., to compete in the state championship. The school was first place out of 110 elementary schools and 124 middle schools. It is currently tied at third place in the nation, out of 4,211 teams, and placed at 21st in the world.

The VEX Robotics Competition, presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, is the largest and fastest-growing middle school and high school robotics program globally with more than 20,000 teams from 50 countries playing in more than 1,700 competitions worldwide. Each year, an engineering challenge is presented in the form of a game. Students, with guidance from their teachers and mentors, build innovative robots and compete year-round.

According to roboticseducation.org, the study of competitive robotics not only encompasses all four pillars of STEM education, but also encourages values such as teamwork, communication, and project-based organization.

The competitions function on three levels, based on age of the students. At the first level, elementary school students compete. The next level is high school, and the final level is college. Middle school students are permitted to choose between competing on the IQ (elementary) level or the high school robotics competition.

Students start by being assigned a board that everyone worldwide must follow. They learn this board, and once they have figured out exactly how it works, they build the robot accordingly, so that it may navigate the board and complete challenges. This year’s challenge is played on a 4’x8’ rectangular board.Two robots compete in the what is referred to as the Teamwork Challenge as an alliance in 60-second-long teamwork matches, working collaboratively to score points. Teams also compete in the Robot Skills Challenge where one robot takes the board to score as many points as possible. These matches consist of Driving Skills Matches, which will be entirely driver-controlled, and Programming Skills Matches, which will be autonomous with limited human interaction. For the programming skills challenge, the robot must be programmed ahead of time to complete the board without a remote control or human interaction.

The object of the game is to attain the highest score by scoring and stacking colored Hubs in Building Zones, removing Bonus Hubs from the Hanging Structure, and by parking or hanging on the hanging bar.

“We’ve been tweaking this all year,” Ben Cherry, the team’s coach, said. “I’m very proud of these kids. This is a team-building activity, and it also incorporates many other values, which can lead to careers for these kids in the future, which I know we’ve been pushing for in Walker County.”

Asked what students were learning, fourth-grader Colin Miller elaborated on his coach’s words. “We’re learning to work together. We’ve spent so much time building this, and it’s fun.”

The students on the team attend the world competition April 28-30 in Louisville, Ky., and their friends in Walker County will, without a doubt, be rooting for them.

Jordan Mooney is a reporter for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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