You might say the GA middle school robotics teams were underdogs going in to the 2017-18 robotics season. After eight years of competing exclusively in the FIRST LEGO League robotics circuit, the decision was made this year to move to the VEX IQ system; this required the girls to become familiar with an entirely different set of robotics kits, challenges, and competition rules.
There were, however, good reasons for the change. Benefits of the switch to VEX IQ include a longer competitive season (an additional four months) and that the robots support both autonomous and remote control operation. Robotics advisor Gail Sestito explained, "the longer build season is more conducive to developing engineering thinking, giving the girls more time to take an iterative approach to their design process. The addition of robots with remote control capability piqued the interest of more students, helping us grow the size of our program and add more teams."
If competition results are any indication, the move was a smart one. Of the five GA Middle School teams that competed in the CT regional tournaments, almost all the teams received awards during the course of the season. Group VII team, RoBros, placed second for robot score and received the Excellence Award (best all-around team) at the CT State Championships. Another Group VII team, GAtastrophe, won the STEM Research Project Award at States as well. These strong performances earned RoBros and GAtastrophe berths at the three-day Vex IQ World Tournament held in late-April in Louisville, KY.
The 11th annual VEX World Tournament brought together 400 middle school teams that were split into five divisions of ~80 teams each to streamline the competition. The GA girls reveled in the experience of competing on the international stage—they met peers from as far away as China, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom, and they were able to collaborate with schools who have a long history of using VEX IQ. And in this highly competitive environment, these newbies held their own: GAtastrophe repeated their CT State win at Worlds, winning their division's STEM Research Project Award; RoBros' composite score landed them 57th out of 79 teams in their division.Established in 2008, GA's robotics program has flourished in all three divisions, helping countless girls discover and develop their interest in engineering, and teaching them to work collaboratively, to be creative problem solvers, and to persevere in the face of adversity.