Friday, January 30, 2015

Homeschool Highlights - Vex Robotics

Jonathan and Team-mates ready to compete at the Tournament.

 A week ago we were down in Saint Cloud, MN attending a Robotics tournament on Friday and Saturday. Jonathan is in a Robotics club and they went to State which was pretty fun. In his robotics club they get a kit (a business sponsors them and provides the kit and the fees to enter the tournaments which is really nice) from which they are supposed to make a robot that will perform various tasks. They are not given instructions they just get to use the supplies which are metal parts, screws, motors, wires and other things that I don't even know the names of to make a robot how ever they think will work best.

   This has been a great learning opportunity for Jonathan. He had already enjoyed working with gears and such and building things with Legos and tearing apart old machines/motors to try to work on them but this has taken things a step farther. This is not at all what Ken or I are good at (neither one of us is mechanically inclined) but Jonathan does seem to be and this has been a great fit for him.

  Here are some of the ways that kids learn in VEX Robotics:

  • They get to do hands-on work with gears, motors, servos and many things that I don't even understand but would be important to know should they go into a field such as engineering.
  • They learn about the importance of testing things. A robot might look good but will it actually do what it is supposed to do? Can it work fast enough? Is it durable to withstand a lot of use? And so forth.
  • They learn how to research. 
  • They learn how to work together with others - both in their teams and when they come to tournaments they have to be on alliances with others teams in their competing and learn to work with them.
  • They learn communication skills. Talking to other teams is very important for how these tournaments work. They also have to talk to the many judges that interview them.
  • They learn about keeping records. This is something that Jonathan's team struggles with but we are trying to encourage them in it. They can place better at tournaments if they have a good design notebook in which they keep track of the whole design process for their robot and why things worked or didn't work.
  • They learn marketing skills. They are supposed to figure out ways to promote their robot which will help them score better (this is something our team hasn't really tried to work on yet).
  • They learn about programming. They make the robot with an autonomous mode which means that they have to program it to be able to run with out them controlling it.
Over all we have found this to be a really great learning tool for Jonathan. 

There team did quite well at the tournament. They actually sat in first place for quite a while through the qualifying rounds which was pretty fun for them and for the families too. :-)

Here is a picture of Ken's phone showing Jonathan's team (Heartland Christian) sitting in first place.
At the end they were in 7th place but that was pretty good out of 60 teams.

 A neat thing at the tournament was that we ended up seeing a couple of my childhood friends from Southern, MN who I haven't really kept contact with for years but they were there with their boys who were in a team. The picture above shows Their boys' team with Jonathan's team getting ready for a match. For this matched those two teams were an alliance and had to work together. Their teams did quite well together and handily beat the other two teams.

  Have you all ever been involved with robotics in any way? What did you think of it?

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