OGLE robotics to compete

The Oak Grove Lower Elementary School Robotics Team can use the VEX Robotics World Championship April 23-25 in Louisville, Ky., as a benchmark toward building a dynasty.

The team, composed of second- and third-graders, will be sending 17 students in five teams to the World Championship. With only eight spots allowed for Mississippi elementary teams, seven of those entries were earned by Oak Grove Lower Elementary, according to Nadine Amaya, who oversees the school’s robotics team.

The students showed their skills to the Lamar County School District’s Board of Trustees at its March 9 meeting. Amaya told the board that money is being raised to offset the trip’s expenses.

“We are in the process of doing a little fundraising and getting some donations to get them there to represent Mississippi,” she said as a video of the state robotics tournament played. “We had seven teams that qualified to compete at the state level. That’s phenomenal. Last year, we had three teams; that was our first year. We had one trophy winner at the state last year.

“This year, we had seven teams that qualified. We had two teams that won trophies and we brought home four trophies. It was very exciting.”

Amaya said the number of trophies that the team received is tremendous.

“This year, we added the third grade and competed in six regional tournaments with students second through eighth grade,” she said. “At every one of these tournaments, we brought home at least one trophy. Most of the time, we brought home multiple trophies. Our entire team had 16 trophies that they won this year. We had the four larger trophies that we earned at the state competition.”

The Oak Grove team is ranked No. 1 in the state among second- through eighth-graders.

“Right behind them at No. 3 is an Oak Grove team,” Amaya said. “No. 5 is an Oak Grove team, No. 6 is an Oak Grove team and No. 9. In the Top 20 in the state all the way through eighth grade, we have 10 in the Top 20. In the elementary rankings in the Top 15, we hold 11 of the top spots.”

Amaya explained some of the competition to the board members.

“This was one of the areas of competition called the teamwork challenges,” she said. “What is really unique about VEX Robotics is that they are not competing against other teams; they are competing with other teams. Our kids in the second and third grades are competing with kids all the way up to the eighth grade.”

Two Oak Grove Lower Elementary students were in the final match, Amaya said.

“It was really exciting,” she said. “They had about four matches that day and based on their points, they were assigned an alliance partner. It ended up being a Richton Middle School team. So they had to try to beat the highest score, which at that point was 46 points. So if they could get more than 46 points, they would become the TeamWorx champion from Mississippi.

“As they start, both teams had already talked about a strategy. They talked about what their robots could do, which partner should drive first and which partner would drive second. They decided who would knock off balls off the other team so that they could get the balls into the elevated goal at either end of the field.”

Points were accumulated for different skills.

“For every ball of the correct color that they could get into those elevated goals, they earned five points,” Amaya said. “For every ball that they knock off of the fence to the correct side, they earned one point. If they can park two robots on that ramp and balance them like they did, they earned 25 points.

“They ended up with 48 points, so they were really, really close. We were really excited about that.”

Students then told the board members about their displays, documentation in an engineering notebook, the design of robots, programming and robot skills.

Amaya stressed that more than robot skills are needed in the competition.

“They just don’t get to play with robots,” she said, “they have to write and document. That’s one of the toughest awards for our little kids to get because when they compete with eighth-graders, of course, their writing skills are a lot higher. We have two teams that came home with the design trophy, so that is exciting because they are involved in a lot of writing as well.”

Preparation was key to the robotic team’s success.

“It took a lot of us many hours to help get them prepared,” Amaya said. “But the biggest part was the kids’ enthusiasm and desire because if they didn’t want to be there two hours after school, then it wouldn’t be worth the effort. They would come in ready to work, even in their engineering notebooks. If that were the goal for the day, then they would do their writing. Of course, they loved the building and the programming, but they had to do the research too.”