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Robotics takes off in Lorain County

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    Andrew Bilczo, 9, and Elliot Rion, 10, demonostrate how their robot can be used to pick up different rings, assigned unique point values, and then place them onto the poles to collect points. The students will be heading to a world competition this year in Kentucky.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elliot Rion, 10, of Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools, connects cords to his team’s robot Wednesday.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    William Troweridge, 11, Ben Montgomery, 11, Tommy Bilczo, 12, and R.J. Chandler, 12, demonostrate how their robot can be used to pick up different rings, assigned unique point values, and then place them onto the poles to collect points. The students will be heading to a world competition this year in Kentucky.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Joseph DeLuca, 11, Miya Frazier, 11, Tyler Kitzberger, 11, and Dominic Lundberg, 11, work on their robot on Wednesday afternoon, March 21 while preparing for their next competition, worlds.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Nicholas Arra, 10, Timothy Rowe, Brad Horinger, 11, Aidan McLaughlin, 11, and Xander Mincey, 13, demonostrate how their robot can be controlled on Wednesday afternoon, March 21. The robot can be controlled with the students or with a programmed computer system. The students will be heading to a world competition this year in Kentucky.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Students keep photos from previous competitions, tools, and other robotics pieces and parts in their cubbies to be used during their practices.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chronicle-Telegram will highlight several robotics teams in the county from Sheffield-Sheffield Lake, Elyria, Avon and Lorain school districts.

“Robotics is alive and building in Lorain County.”

That’s according to Deb Hansen, assistant coach for Lorain’s Longfellow Middle School’s robotics team. Schools across the county have implemented robotics programs in the past few years, and Hansen helped encourage that growth.

This year, several teams from the county made it to the VEX World Competition in Louisville, Ky., April 25-28, including some who started their programs because of Hansen. Of the five middle school teams from Ohio allowed at the competition, Lorain Longfellow is one of them. Three high school teams from the county are going to the competition — two from Brookside High School in Sheffield and one from Elyria High School.

Districts can choose different robotics programs, from the First Robotics system — used at Avon High School, which provides greater flexibility, to VEX Robotics — which Hansen brought to Longfellow.

VEX is more structured than First Robotics in that teams buy VEX parts and kits to build their robots, and it’s used more commonly in Lorain County. Each year’s robots and the game they play are different. This year, teams must build a robot able to pick up “mobile goals” — blue or red weighted cones — and move them into different zones in the corners of the field. The team scores more points the farther back it can place the mobile goal over raised bars in the point zones, with the highest-scoring zone having the largest barrier. Teams score more points by picking up smaller yellow cones and stacking them on top of their mobile goals before moving them into their respective scoring zones.

There are four robots on the field during a competition — two blue and two red. Each team is randomly partnered with another for each round and must work with each other on the fly to try to get the most points possible. There also are different sections to the competition. The first 60 seconds of each round is automated — teams must preprogram their robot to score points, the next 60 seconds is when students drive the robot around the field. In a different round, the skills section is the same game, but with just one robot on the field at a time, allowing teams to show off their robot’s skills.

If it wasn’t for Hansen seeing Marion Schools’ robotics team and starting the program at Longfellow at the suggestion of Kristi Matlack, technology integration coach at North Union Local Schools, VEX may not have made an appearance in local schools.

“The main reason I did the robotics was from (Matlack’s) encouragement,” she said. “But I also saw there was a need in Lorain City Schools for students to excel not only in athletics competitively but to excel in academic areas in the middle school — because I was a middle school teacher. They do have things that they do at the high school, but they didn’t have anything for the middle school to be able to excel academically. There was a group of students that just needed to be tapped to take the skills they were learning in their classroom and really branch it out and be competitive and take those applications and put them into hands-on use.”

Hansen started the team at Longfellow Middle School 2013-14 and then held a workshop about a year later for educators in the county in conjunction with the team from Brookside schools. Students on the two school’s robotics teams presented the program, showing educators how meaningful it was to them, Hansen said. From that, Elyria, St. Anthony of Padua in Lorain, Horizon Academy and Firelands all started their own robotics teams.

“It was really exciting to see that through a simple workshop and showing through the eyes of the students how much it benefitted them and their school district we have expanded Lorain County’s robotics programs and we’re doing well,” she said. “We help each other out — all the coaches work together with each other and the kids work with each other and they develop very, very close friendships, they communicate with each other on social media, I’m sure, and everything else. So it’s a really neat experience for them.”

No matter the teams’ success level or whether they use VEX or First Robotics systems, all students take away skills they can use in life.

“Skills that they take from this, No. 1 is actually just working as a team,” Hansen said. “More and more industries nowadays are team-based. They work in groups, especially in the engineering field. So they have to learn how to communicate with each other, they learn how to listen to each other’s ideas and then they are able to come with the best idea possible that they feel and test it. So they’re learning that design process, problem-solving skills, so that they’re not afraid to challenge anything that’s given to them.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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