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Robocon competition draws students from across CCSD in test of STEAM skills

Students participate in Robocon at West Middle School on March 26.The seeds of lifelong careers could very well have been set at West Middle School on March 26, as more than 150 students from nearly 20 schools across the Cherry Creek School District flocked to the building on a sunny Saturday afternoon for a unique robotics competition.

This year’s Robocon featured dozens of teams of students from kindergarten to eighth grade testing their Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) skills in a competition that pitted robot against robot. The daylong contest challenged students to figure out ways that their hand-crafted robots could complete specific tasks, both straightforward and more complex.

In staging areas set up across the West gym, robots collected balls, shot baskets and moved items from one target area to another in timed, competitive rounds. Students controlled the machines via remote controls, as they saw months’ worth of planning, building and practice come to fruition.

“It took us a lot of hours and a lot of days to build our robot,” said Anastasiya White, a 10-year-old from Eastridge Elementary. Along with her teammates and fellow fifth-graders Undral Battulga and Lucenda Brady, White had spent many weeks planning for the competition. Halfway through the many rounds of individual matches, the team was feeling good about their showing and all the hard work they put into their machines. “It feels great. I always liked STEM, but this gave me the chance to work with motors and plastic and real machines instead of cardboard.”

Sparking that kind of passion, interest and enthusiasm was at the heart of the competition, according to Robocon organizers. While the contest featured awards and the formal recognition of winning teams, the real purpose of the day was to offer students from all schools and backgrounds the chance to experience STEAM in a real-world environment. The structure of the contest encouraged a growth mindset among the participants, and it was a perfect example of connecting K-8 students with the district’s Career and Innovation Pathway.

“Robocon is an opportunity for our kids to enter into robotics at any level,” said Sarah Grobbel, CCSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Career and Innovation. “Today is the day that could spark an interest in robotics and STEAM for a student that we could see 20 years down the line as their career pathway.

“It’s about giving our students real-world experiences in career exploration; it’s about helping them understand what possible skills they might need, and then allowing them to take those skills forward in a fun, engaging environment.”

This year’s Robocon was all the more significant after the events of the past two years. Because of safety concerns tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robocon hasn’t taken place for more than a year.

“This is such a great opportunity for students to get some of those computational thinking skills under their belts, for the kids is to come together, collaborate, problem-solve and really get to know other kids from around the district,” said Sandra Ramirez, Partner of Innovation for CCSD. “This is the first event that we’ve had for STEM and STEAM as a district since the beginning of COVID. We’re excited to be here and we’re excited to see what our students do today.”

Students like Liam Nelson, a third-grader at Altitude Elementary, relished the chance to take part in a contest that featured collaboration, community and, most important of all, robots.

“I learned how to communicate with the other team members to figure out how to get the most possible points,” Nelson said. “It was really fun; I want to do it again next year.”

-- Posted 3/29/22 at 9 AM