Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Robots to the Rescue! - A Virtual Tournament


COVID-19 forced many events to either be cancelled or postponed over this past year. The Northwest ISD Instructional Technology team did not want students to miss out on showcasing their learning as in the previous 9 years. This year, we got creative and hosted a virtual edition of EXPO 2021 with the fitting theme “Coming Together as One.” In conjunction with the traditional EXPO event, the past 3 years, we have hosted a face to face district wide robotics tournament sponsored by the Northwest Education Foundation. COVID also forced our tournament to be reinvented to a VIRTUAL robotics edition. 

With the goal of inspiring younger students to pursue engineering in high school, the competition challenges were developed in a pre-COVID world for the VEX and Mindstorm EV3 robots. The challenges were based on real life scenarios and were designed to be judged as a face-to-face tournament by the REACH Robotics teams at Eaton High School with their sponsor, Mr. William Gilbert. Ms. Rene Egle, an Instructional Technologist in Northwest ISD, who leads an annual TechnoCamp and the Robotics Competition at our district EXPO, took two months to tweak the format to a virtual robotics edition. This challenge was differentiated for the younger grades using the Ozobots and Dash robots.

Natalie Spann, Library Media Specialist, at Lance Thompson Elementary stated, "The whole process sets students up for success and discovery. It was truly inspiring to see student curiosity and wonder contribute to such amazingly authentic products and learning outcomes. We can’t wait for next year!"

Robotics, STEAM, K-8, NISD, Engineering, Elementry, Secondary, Cross-Curricular, Virtual, Rene' Egle, William Gilbert

"I really liked this years remote format to the robotics competition. The real world problem gave students connections to how robotics and STEM projects can prepare them for future careers. We had 3rd through 5th graders involved with three different robots. The format this year allowed me to observe teams and see our learners grow in their technical thinking. I also feel this process gave teams more time and depth to their teamwork skill development.  I do think the project had many layers outside of just building a robot. Students had to take notes and reflect on their thinking. Teams had to do lots of problem solving using coding to meet the set parameters of the challenge," said Sara Jones, Library Media Specialist at Justin Elementary. 

Katie Delgado, 3rd grade sponsor from Sendera Ranch Elementary stated, "It was so fun watching the team work together to problem solve and beat challenges.  I loved watching them cheer each other on."

The NISD IT team has gotten such good feedback from both the sponsors and students! They are loving the challenges and we will be repeating this format again next year.

The Houston Deluge tournament synopsis: Hurricane Gilbo has flooded Houston, downing power lines, stranding citizens, and littering the city with debris.  Robots are sent into this dangerous environment to clean up the mess, control the flood waters, and save the humans.   

This type of STEAM competition has inspired 75 teams both elementary and middle school students to learn coding, engineering, and collaborative problem-solving in a real-world disaster scenario. Other elements of the project include an engineering design website, self-scoring rubrics, peer evaluations, and judges interviews that transform this project into a cross-curricular STEAM challenge where students and learn future-ready skills, work with technology, and become more effective communicators in a rigorous and relevant student-driven project environment. 

Andy from the Sendera Ranch team stated, "While working on this project, I learned I am good at persevering because when I couldn't get this one pencil I kept trying and trying then, I finally got the pencil.  Another reason is that when the robot got stuck I finally got it free!"

Fourth grade students Karsyn and Kenly from Lance Thompson said, "What at fun experience, getting to know new people and figuring out how the technology works while making it your own." "This was a fun, and creative experience, deigning cityscapes, but also a challenging one, learning to build a robot; we learned that teamwork is the best way to succeed." 

"Robotics and the tasks of this tournament are profoundly challenging every step of the way, yet students love the rigor and enthusiastically seek out the knowledge they need to achieve mastery.  This is a STEAM education activity with higher level learning that combines with creativity!" said Mrs. Shelia Greene, PLTW educator, from Adams Middle School.   

“Robotics just may be the most perfect instructional approach currently available. It offers classroom activities that teach high-value STEM content as well as opportunities to powerfully address ELA Common Core Standards. In fact, there are connections to robotics across the full spectrum of the curriculum. Robotics is also a highly effective way to foster essential work skills like collaboration, problem solving and project management."  Mark Gura writes in a blog post from Edutopia

Campus entries for the virtual tournament were due May 7, 2021.  The REACH Robotics team from Eaton High School are in the process of judging all the videos and engineering design websites.  View NISD Post Here 

We would like to thank our awards sponsors again this year.  The Northwest ISD Education Foundation.  

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