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Elyria robotics team off to VEX world competition

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    Brookside eighth grade student Jordan McClelland, 13, makes last minute adjustments to his robot during the robotics tournament held at Elyria High School on Saturday, February 10.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    From left to right, junior Callie Fenik, 17, sophomore Molly Fenik, 16, and junior Deric Martin, 16, represent Elyria Schools at a VEX robotics competition.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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Junior Deric Martin wasn’t interested in engineering when he first got involved with the robotics team at Elyria High School he said, but he liked to work with his hands. So, he gave the team a try his freshman year and now he’ll be headed to his first World Competition on April 25-28 in Louisville, Ky.

Using the VEX robotics system, Deric helps his team design and build the robot then, as a driver, pilots it at competitions. His team advanced to World Competition after winning skills at the state level.

“We’ve worked really hard this season, our whole team has done really good, so I think it’s more for the experience,” he said. “I hope we do decent. … There’s 500 teams going — but I feel like we should do all right”

Deric said his time on the team hasn’t changed his career path — he still plans to be a police officer — but it has taught him skills he can apply later in life.

“I feel like teamwork is a lot of it, learning to solve problems, like if a problem shows up find out how to solve it, different ways to solve it,” he said.

The team’s unofficial name for the robot is “NDO-robo,” Deric joked, standing for “no days off.” And while he said the team takes a lot of days off during the year, it’s hard to tell when the students are ranked No. 87 out of around 30,000 robots in the world, according to Mike West, Elyria High School ImaginEering Hub Makerspace teacher and robotics coach.

“Ohio’s a pretty competitive state when it comes to robotics, so it’s a pretty big deal when you can get out of the state competition without winning a state championship and making it to Worlds,” West said.

Elyria’s robotics teams meet in Makerspace — an area in the high school with tools for students to create and design projects, everything from music production to coding and 3-D printing. The robotics teams are just a piece of the STEM/STEAM puzzle at the school, and are helping to retrain students’ brains, according to West.

The school is in the process of changing its curriculum to add more robotics and coding, and West is working to integrate art into it as well. But be it the robotics team or the Makerspace, the programs are trying to change education to match a rapidly changing society.

“I think (STEM/STEAM is) the way that society is moving,” he said. “Even if you watch kids, they’ll walk up and try to touch a TV screen like they think everything’s touch screen like your phone is. So I think in order to be prepared for society to be lifelong learners that’s the move that we have to make because otherwise if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, we’re going to get the exact same results.”

Elyria Schools has robotics programs for all grade levels, starting with the tech-E clubs in the district’s elementary schools. There, students learn the principles of robotics, along with some simple drag-and-drop programming that the middle school program can build on. This is the first year for a robotics team at the district’s middle schools. Students from Eastern Heights, Northwood and Westwood are all bused to the high school’s Makerspace to work alongside the high school robotics teams. There are 15 kids on the middle school teams and about 20 on the high school teams, according to West.

Blending science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with art to create STEAM opens up possibilities for students to learn technology and find interests they may not have been exposed to before. One student came to West thinking he wanted to be an engineer, but he hated math. West showed him the robotics and explained the science behind it, and the student wasn’t interested — so he tried an embroidery machine instead.

“He found embroidery machine, he ended up going to school for graphic design,” he said. “So in the process of using robotics and using the Makerspace and the marriage between the two, he decided in high school, without blowing $30,000, ‘I just figured out what I want to do.’”

The robotics teams also blend social groups, as kids work with schoolmates they may not have talked to outside the program.

“I get to see so many kids on the robotics team that you would never even see talk to each other in the hallway that end up on a team together and they’re problem solving and programming and driving and they’re standing up there and I’m watching them at the arena going ‘you guys didn’t even know each other like two weeks ago,’” he said. “And they’re in an arena trying to play this game that’s all strategy and they’re with another team that they’re randomly paired with.”

In Lorain County specifically, West said schools are pushing for STEM/STEAM curriculum to match the number of technology jobs in the area that often go unfilled.

“Seventy percent of jobs that are in this kind of field go unfilled every year so I think it’s mostly kids don’t see it, they don’t touch it, they don’t have any access to it,” West said.

“So what’s cool about this is you can build something, you can build a robot, you can see how a bolt works — there’s a number of kids I’ve just had to teach how to use a screwdriver — so you teach them how to do those things and all of a sudden they’re at home and they’re trying to problem solve, they’re fixing things. Hopefully what happens is it prepares them for a job in Lorain County. You’ve got places like Bendix and Nordson who want to hire people that went to school in Elyria, Lorain and Brookside and they want to put them back in and they want to draw them back into these places.”

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



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