Wichita State College of Engineering has a nearly 20-year history of sponsoring robotics competitions, making a tradition of its annual Shocker MINDSTORMS and Kansas BEST competitions.
This year, it’s hosting two new competitions in a single event that organizers say may the largest of its kind in state history.
On Friday, Feb. 23, “Shocker Special: In the Zone” VEX Robotics Competition and VEX IQ Challenge state competition will be held in the Heskett Center gymnasium. The VEX Robotics Competition has 62 teams of middle and high school students registered to compete. VEX IQ Challenge expects 14 teams of elementary and middle school students.
Both competitions have students program robots for driver-controlled and automated scoring tasks, though the equipment is slightly different. The event runs from 9 a.m-3 p.m. in Heskett Center and is free and open to the public.
The new competitions are being adopted because of an increasing number of schools using VEX kits in the classroom, particularly schools that have the pre-engineering and computer science Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum supported by the COE. About 26,000 students in 269 schools statewide offer PLTW classes. Many PLTW classes require VEX equipment as part of their curriculum.
Many VEX teams are comprised of robotics classes; some are afterschool clubs. All teams offer numerous avenues for student learning, said Trevor Foreman, a Hesston robotics teacher who has coached teams since 2012 and now serves as the primary coordinator of the VEX Robotics Competitions.
“They are learning far more than STEM skills,” Foreman said, referring to science, technology, engineering and math. “They are learning teamwork, time-management, trouble-shooting, problem-solving, anger management, strategizing and prioritizing.”
Foreman has watched VEX Robotics competitions grow rapidly from two high schools bringing 14 teams to the first “state” competition in 2014 to 62 teams this year. In all, 131 teams from 39 schools are competing in VEX Robotics regional competitions held around the state, he said. Rapid expansion is attributed to ESSDACK, a group that represents 57 rural Kansas school districts, last year obtaining a $40,000 grant to provide VEX equipment to schools. He believes this event, with the combined VEX Robotics Competition and VEX IQ Challenge teams, will be the largest event yet.
The rapid expansion has attracted the attention of Dan Mantz, CEO of the Greenville, Texas-based Robotics, Education and Competition (REC) Foundation, which oversees all VEX Robotics and VEX IQ Challenge competitions nationally and globally.
Whitney Smith, a Valley Center elementary teacher, is coordinating the state’s first VEX IQ Challenge state tournament. She said once her school adopted the PLTW pre-engineering curriculum – which includes robotics, coding and engineering design thinking – it was a natural extension to form an afterschool robotics club. “I would love to see more PLTW teachers take advantage of the equipment in their classrooms and take their courses to the next level,” she said.
Smith credits Wichita State for its role in helping VEX IQ, by hosting a half-day training session for teachers who want to establish teams and an initial small scale VEX IQ Challenge competition last year. She’s excited to see the joint competition being held in the Heskett.
“The College of Engineering will be a valuable resource for VEX IQ as we move forward with expansion in the state, integral to fostering the next generation of STEM professionals,” she said.
Students who will be in the 8th and 9th grades in fall 2018 who would like to learn how to use VEX robotic kits may enroll in the Intro to VEX Robotics summer camp, sponsored by the COE. The camp will be held June 18-21. For more information, visit www.wichita.edu/engineeringcamps.