SYRACUSE — Eighty hours out of an already tight summer schedule for school students is a significant amount of time. But that is what the roughly 16 Wawasee Community School Corp. students attending the summer VEX Robotics Competition Camp have chosen to do.
The camp, which began Monday, July 11, and will conclude Friday, Aug. 5, has been held mostly at Wawasee High School but had to be moved for a week to Syracuse Elementary School due to the power being shut off at the high school for renovations. It (the camp) is four hours per day, five days a week for four weeks.
Students in grades seven to 12 are learning and applying the concepts of physics, engineering and computer programming. They are also building robotic designs to be used in the 2016-17 school year VEX Robotics Challenge. “We are trying to get a jump on the competition season,” said Jed Wandland, WHS robotics teacher. “We want to be ready for the world championships, so we are starting early,” noting some countries start school earlier in the year.
Every year, VEX puts outs a new challenge. This year, robots are to be designed to launch what looks like a jack used in the game of jacks, but is referred to as a star, over a 2-foot wall. There is also a cube, much larger and differently shaped, that can be tossed to earn more points in a competition.
Given the increase in interest in robotics within Wawasee schools, it is not so surprising students would make such a commitment to a summer camp, though understandably some of them can’t attend every day. Wandland said there were 45 students in robotics last year at the high school and he anticipates between 50 and 55 this year. WHS has robotics classes and also the Iron Pride Robotics Club, where students apply what they have learned in class.
Why is there such an interest in robotics? “The number one reason is the robots are cool,” Wandland said. “We grew up watching robots on TV, but no one has actually ever told us to go build one.” These robots look similar to Erector Sets but with more parts added.
More than cool, though, is the students take ownership of their robots. “It’s their work,” he said. “Whatever they put into it, that’s what they get out of it.”
And a sense of family is developed during the course of a competition season. “Whatever happens to one of us, happens to all of us,” he noted, and the goal is to be a welcoming organization.
Students learn principles of designing, pros and cons of engineering, how different mechanisms work, team building, project and parts management and more. Each person has a role and some students will develop leadership skills.
Ethan Hays, soon to be a sophomore at WHS and who said he likes to tinker with things, noted he likes the building aspect of robotics. “I do things I can’t do at home,” he said. “I like the building and deconstruction, being able to take apart and manipulate the parts. You can do a lot more.”
“We want to have a competitive robot ready when school starts,” Wandland said concerning the goal of the summer camp.
Wawasee, about to enter its third competitive season and fourth year overall of robotics, has put in a bid to host the state competition in 2017.