According to Tad Douce, who led the program instruction through the third-party National Robotics Challenge, the middle school years are a time when a lot of students are unsure of what they want to do careerwise, so a program like this can help lead them down the path to a job in science.
“The CIA, of course, is very interested in targeting students to get them interested in STEM and STEAM initiatives and careers,” Douce said. “So really looking at kids that maybe they’re disengaged with school, maybe they didn’t have success as a younger student, but now in middle school, it’s an opportunity to kind of think, ‘Hey, what do I want to be?’ and ‘This might be something I could do after all.'”
Tyrell said the students first had to learn how to build the robot, then they learned how to control it before they used coding to program it. The students, who worked in pairs, took their robots around obstacle courses in preparation for the tournament-style competition.
In the final competition, teams of students faced off and were tasked with making their robots pick up and move as many foam cubes into goals as they could within one minute and 30 seconds.
Alexander Lee, 13, of Dinwiddie County and Christopher Sanders, 11, of Petersburg won the competition.
Alexander said it felt good to win. Their tactic was to simply knock down the tower of blocks and pick them up. He enjoyed the program and learned a lot, he said.