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St. Vrain Valley robotics teams dominate rankings, prepare to compete Saturday
By Karen Antonacci, Staff Writer, Times-Call
Erie resident Michelle Lonsinger's basement buzzed with activity Wednesday afternoon as a bevy of elementary school students practiced maneuvering their robots around a field and manipulating plastic rings.
"It brings a lot of things together to meet the interests of different stakeholders — it's a high-energy challenge and it's transformative," he said. "It turns them into innovative problem solvers with a wide range of engineering skills."
Kids from the Tiger Hawks and the Row-Bots practiced cooperating to drive their robots in order to collect colored rings from the playing field and deposit them on rods.
The two teams were practicing together because the VEX tournaments depend on alliances and cooperation rather than dog-eat-dog competition.
"We're practicing because there's a good chance that we'll be driving together in the finals," 12-year-old Dillon Richardson explained as the two teams worked together to score the maximum number of points.
The other Dylan on the Tiger Hawks, 12-year-old Dylan Baer, said they got the design for their robot from another team that served as mentors.
"That helped tremendously and so I hope we can help other teams now," Baer said.
Ten-year-old Maia Mares showed off the computer-aided design program the team uses, ShapeCAD.
"Here we can try out designs virtually," Mares said. "I like doing the programming and things in ShapeCAD. I've been working on the drive base ... the wheels, basically."
Bethany Lonsinger, 12, has many jobs on the team, including keeping the engineering notebook, which the team must submit to the judges at a competition.
"I write down the dates and everyone who is present and what we did and like our goals and accomplishments and what processes we tested and what things we need to buy and stuff," she said, flipping through two full composition notebooks held together with a metal binder ring full of programming language, hand-drawn diagrams and photos of robots.
Michelle Lonsinger said that the benefits of being on the robotics team on such a high level are huge for the kids.
"The first thing they get out of it is teamwork and the ability to collaborate on a project with kids they've never worked with before," she said. "They're designing, documenting, programming and building the robot. It's immersive. And a lot of teams also do an optional STEM research project that they present to the judges. It's top to bottom the skills they need to work in any STEM field."