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Archive for May, 2022

There is a lot made about the “C”s in education. Whether it is the three of them or maybe the four of them, or sometimes the seven of them.  Competencies like communication, creativity, and critical thinking are top of mind for all designing modern education programs.  Always on this list is also collaboration.  While everyone agrees in their importance, finding ways to see students demonstrate them can be challenging. 

This leads me to a story of robotics.  

I had the chance to join our elementary school robotics teams at the VEX World Championships last week.  In just a few years West Vancouver has built one of the top school robotics programs in the country (there will be another blog post on that soon). I have watched several competitions, but this was my first chance to be fully immersed in the world of robotics. 

And, one of the five elementary teams we had at the Championships was crowned World Champions in a field of over 500 teams from around the world (and the competition was truly global).  Now different divisions work differently, but this is how the elementary division worked at the World Championships.

In the qualification round, teams are randomly assigned to one of nine sections. In each of these sections are about 60 teams.  You play 11 qualification matches.  How these matches work is that two teams work together to try to score as many points as possible in 60 seconds.  I will link HERE to this year’s game.  I won’t do it justice, but the simple explanation is that you need your robot and your partner team’s robot to pick up small balls and shoot them into a basket (there is a lot more to it than that with multiple other ways to score).  And you are randomly assigned a partner for each match – so you might be with a strong team and then a weaker team.  The premise is that over 11 matches this evens out and the strongest teams emerge as having the most points.  

Then, in the playoff round the top twenty teams advance in each of the nine sections.  And in each section the first place team is partnered with the second place team, and then the third place team is partnered with the fourth place team, and so on all the way to the 19th and 20th placed teams partnering.  And you have one match with this partner team to score as many points as possible.  So, it should be the first / second partnership that is favoured.  

Then, in the final, the nine winners of each section advance to the championship and play one more time – the team with the most points wins and is crowned World Champion.  West Vancouver had four teams make the playoff round and two teams advance to the Championship – an amazing accomplishment.  And then had one of its teams win the World Championship (and got a perfect score!).  They won the World Championship with the Kermit Crafters from the Gateway Science Academy in St. Louis, Missouri.  

Now, West Vancouver’s Team and the team from St. Louis, Missouri were 3rd and 4th in their division.  Here is the moment after the 1st and 2nd team finished and scored were posted that they knew they made the finals.

I find this wild.  It is one of the ultimate tests of collaboration.  In the qualification round you have to quickly make plans with 11 different teams to try to score as many points as possible and then you advance to the playoffs and you partner with a team and you are completely reliant on each other.  Those who can collaborate will succeed.  So like all competitions, there is a heck of a lot of skill, and a little bit of luck and amazing teamwork.   But this is so different than anything else I have seen as you have to build this rapport in minutes not over months like you would in volleyball or soccer.   And for the finals, you compete on stage in front of several thousand spectators.  

In the older divisions top teams get to choose their partners for playoffs and so that adds another element.

We often try to find ways to see collaboration in action.  My three days at the World Championships for Robotics was some of the best I have seen.  Watching teams, people who have just met, plan strategy, talk through strengths and weaknesses and make plans to execute them was awesome (and remember these students are all in elementary school).

It was surreal afterwards as we were walking out of the arena, posing for one last picture with the teammates from St. Louis, and heading off in different directions. Our students and theirs had just shared a moment that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  I would say never to see each other again, but they were all connected by social media.  

Championship Teams

It was one of the most powerful learning experiences I have seen on display and these young students did it in front of thousands of people who were cheering each of their moves.

I have always been a fan, but I am fully converted to the power of robotics – yes the technical skills are important, but the human skills it teachers are all those we need for our world.

For more on robotics, my colleague Cari Wilson, who is one of the lead teachers in the program, wrote a great post on the Worlds experience HERE. And congratulations to the full team of teachers including Cari, Todd Ablett, Braydan Pastucha, Mahesh Chugani , and Jeff Huang. And to the administrator team of Diane Nelson and Paul Eberhardt.  

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