Robotics is on the rise among youth in Jackson County.
While local high schools have had robotics teams in recent years, interest at the elementary and middle schools has increased.
Immanuel Lutheran School and Seymour Middle School both had teams last year and competed against each other once.
This year, teams have been established at St. Ambrose Catholic School, Crothersville Elementary School, Brownstown Central Middle School, Seymour-Jackson Elementary School and Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.
On Saturday, students from all of those schools will come together for a VEX IQ tournament at Immanuel in Seymour.
In the school’s gymnasiums, several 4-by-8-foot arenas will be set up to play the game Crossover. Working in random pairs, students will have two minutes to use robots to move orange and blue balls into different levels of a goal on each end. Each section is worth a different amount of points, and parking the robots on a bridge in the middle of the arena at the end will result in more points.
The tournament runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the public is invited to watch the students in action.
Trophies will be awarded to the tournament winners and skills winners.
Immanuel coach Dallas Goecker said it will be good to see students from different schools work together.
“They will want to get together before their match and practice, talk about strategy,” he said. “They will figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and figure out how to work together.”
Robotics is new to most of the students, and this will be their first competition.
“We’re going to have somewhere between 60 and 70 students participating in this tournament, and it’s basically going to be new for almost every single one of them, so this will be the first time doing this type of thing,” Goecker said.
This year, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. decided to change up the county robotics tournament, going from high school teams to elementary and middle school squads.
Serving as a community partner, the organization used money it had allocated for robotics to provide kits to the schools, said workforce director Jackie Hill.
VEX IQ robots are constructed with plastic pieces that snap together, and students can assemble them however they wish.
“The kits and stuff are very easy to build,” Goecker said. “You’re not having to cut and modify and screw things together, and you’re able to build all kinds of funny creations here. It’s a good product. It gives the kids the ability to mechanically design and gives them software to program.”
Learning how to build and program the robots will help as they progress to the high school level, Goecker said. They are able to apply STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, skills.
“The kids coming out of a few years of this are going to have similar sort of experiences a few years in high school, and they are going to be that much further ahead,” he said. “I’m really excited about the high school programs and their future with these kids here and what they are learning now. They are going to come into high school with a huge jump-start compared to the kids that haven’t had this.”
Immanuel had two team members recently compete in a world competition, and Goecker said he hopes that and the local tournament inspire others to get involved in robotics.
“What Jackie has done is put together a good seed program to help get things going in Jackson County,” Goecker said. “Growing it at the elementary and junior high levels will really help with growing it at the high school level, getting the kids involved now at the young age.”
Seymour Middle School robotics coach Curt Schleibaum said he is working on starting robotics programs at the corporation’s other three elementary schools, while Brownstown Central Middle School coach Karen Ault said she plans to get a team formed at Brownstown Elementary School.
That would result in more teams competing in next year’s local tournament and other VEX IQ competitions.
If this year’s tournament goes well, Hill said they may consider having paid admission and concessions next year so money can be generated for future competitions.
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What: VEX IQ robotics tournament
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Immanuel Lutheran School, 520 S. Chestnut St., Seymour
Who: Teams from Immanuel Lutheran School, Seymour Middle School, St. Ambrose Catholic School, Crothersville Elementary School, Brownstown Central Middle School, Seymour-Jackson Elementary School and Margaret R. Brown Elementary School will be competing
Cost: Free; the public is invited