The VEX IQ Robotics company hosted its first-ever middle school robotics competition in Miami-Dade County Public Schools at Citrus Grove Middle School on Saturday, Nov. 7.
The VEX IQ platform is designed to transform the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning for students.
Different competitions have been held around the United States, but Saturday’s event was its first hosted by a Miami-Dade County School.
“This gives students who aren’t interested in competitive sports a chance to participate in a healthy competition,” said Melissa Fernandez, instructional supervisor of Technology and Industrial Education for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Fernandez also said that because there is no set infrastructure to support competitive robotics, they use volunteers. Many participated Saturday.
“What’s amazing is the number of volunteers we have,” Fernandez said.
Ten schools from throughout South Florida, both public and private, convened for this competition: Academir Charter School, Belen Jesuit Prepatory School, Carol City Middle School, Citrus Grove Middle School, Jose De Diego Middle School, Mater Brighton Lakes, Pinecrest Academy South, Quantum Science Research and Consulting LLC, Ransom Everglades Middle School and Rockway Middle School.
This year’s competition featured a game called Bank Shot, played on a 4-foot-by-8-foot field. Teams are given one minute and can score in a variety of ways. In the preliminary rounds, teams have to work collaboratively.
There are many set plastic balls on the playing field. A team can score points by knocking the balls out of place, picking them up with the robot and taking to the other side of a fence or by launching them into a plastic bucket. In the team rounds, if both teams’ robots end up on the ramp, they score a large number of points.
“Unlike other events, there isn’t necessarily a first, second or third place. There are various awards that take into account not only the robotics competition itself, but the students’ ability to communicate their design ideas, record their findings in the engineering notebooks and, ultimately, their performance in the competition,” Fernandez said.
Event coordinator Adam Mack, robotics and engineering lead teacher at Citrus Grove Middle School, called the competition “project-based learning at its best.”
“They use problem-solving skills and critical-thinking skills,” he said. “This shows where education is put into real-world applications. This event shows what a community can do when it comes together. Teachers understand the passion.”
Citrus Grove is one of seven middle schools that received the Project Lead the Way Grant for STEM education.
Landy Rivero, an eighth-grader at Citrus Grove who is the robotics club president and an aspiring engineer, loved the chance to compete.
“It was really exciting when Mr. Mack first told us we were going to be competing at our school. It doesn’t get me as nervous than to be at another school. Just to be here where I’ve been for the past three years,” Landy said.
“I think it’s really fun because we can learn from others, too. Like, it gets the rush going because we have competition, we have to shine in this moment and we can learn from other people’s ideas,” he said.