Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts sent two teams to the recent Robotics Education & Competition Foundation VEX Robotics World Championship, where the girls' team — competing at the national level in their first year as a team — placed 33rd out of 353 teams in the elementary division.
The boys' team, competing at the World Championship for the second year, placed 41st out of 353 teams in the middle school division — a big improvement from their performance last year, when they placed in the 70th-80th range, said coach Scott Rosenow.
"Our teams did amazingly well," Rosenow said. "It was a really good experience for them."
The largest robotics event in the world, the VEX Robotics World Championship tasks teams with designing and building a robot to compete against other teams' robots in a game-based engineering challenge. Open to students in third through eighth grades, VEX Robotics competitions are held year-round at the regional, state and international levels leading up to the World Championship.
Rosenow said his teams' success is especially noteworthy considering the number of foreign teams competing with elaborate robots designed with a lot of assistance. Rosenow's students did all the designing and building of the robots used in the competition, he said, though he taught them the programming methodology that allowed them to do so.
At the state VEX competition in Brentwood, Rosenow was named Teacher of the Year for Robotics in the middle school division. The two teachers recognized, one in each age division, are selected based on nominations submitted by team members.
Rosenow started coaching teams for VEX competitions two years ago, though he's been a coach for FIRST LEGO League, in which kids compete to solve real-world engineering problems by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks, since 2008. VEX competitions differ from FIRST LEGO League's in that with VEX, students drive their robot with a remote control as well as program them to move autonomously, while FIRST LEGO League competitions only involve the latter.
"[Moving the robot by remote control] leads to early success, which causes them to be more engaged and work harder as the season goes on," Rosenow said of VEX competitions.
Though the competition doesn't separate teams by gender, he said it was beneficial to the members of his elementary team — one fourth-grader and two fifth-graders — to be on an all-girl team. Otherwise, girls often gravitate to the research portion of projects and leave the more scientific aspects to the boys, he explained.
The benefit of having an all-girl team can be seen in the two teams' scores. The girls' team scored higher in the driving portion of the competition than the boys' team, which consists of two sixth-graders and two seventh-graders who have been competing longer.
Rosenow said his teams have also greatly benefited from participating in FIRST LEGO League before doing VEX competitions, which allowed them to pick up the programming aspect easier.
"The most significant thing I enjoy is the student discovery that happens; the little light bulb that goes off, the shine in their eyes," said Rosenow, as to what he likes about coaching robotics. "I love to learn about different robotics systems. Every year I'm introduced to a new one, and every year the students are more engaged. It's a great activity for me and for them."
To learn more about VEX Robotics, visit vexrobotics.com.