Vex Robotics Team Takes it to School

When the boys mentioned that they wanted to show their Vex competition robot to one of the Project Lead the Way (engineering) classes at their middle school, I appreciated their enthusiasm and told them I’d be happy to bring the robot to school. What I didn’t realize is that I’d be at school with the bot just three days later.

This turned out to be both a brilliant and frustrating move.

It was brilliant in that The Maker Tween put together a basic Power Point presentation explaining Vex and this will give the team a head start when they go in to the community in the future to spread the word about Vex and robotics or if they try to appeal to a civic group for funds to buy more equipment. (I expect us to remain a private team for at least one more year.)

And the move was also brilliant in that we’ve never taken the robot out before. It turned out that it needed some tweaks. Fortunately, The Maker Tween thought to include a couple of wrenches along with the robot when he packed it up.

They boys did a good job of making quick fixes to the robot, presenting and showing it off, especially considering my son was the only one who’d seen the Power Point. Several PLTW students asked good questions about the robot and the team. Of course, the robot was a hit.

All in all, it was great. As I said, though, there were a few frustrations. One is double-edged: my boy did a great job organizing and presenting on short notice, but I realize I need to make some space for the other boys to step up, too. Maybe I’ll gag him during our next practice.

Actually, the other frustration is also double-edged. The robot was so enthusiastically received that a few kids asked about joining our team. Uh….

Like my son and his Power Point, I quickly threw together this team because I couldn’t let the grant to start a Vex  team at almost no cost pass me by. I knew we’d have to compete in Vex early on to minimize crossover with Science Olympiad, a group that both the students and parents in this house are committed to. I started with a small group of motivated boys that I sensed would get along with each other. It’s gone pretty well so far.

What would it mean to go big? It certainly would introduce scheduling difficulties. And what about selection? Would I need to hold try-outs? How would roles get determined? Although Vex teams can have up to 15 kids, only a handful can really build or drive the robot. Granted there are auxiliary positions that can help the team, but I’m not really up for having kids (or their parents) whine at me that they’d prefer a different position. I’ve been involved  with Science Olympiad long enough to know this is inevitable.

With our competition less than two weeks away, it’s a no-brainer: no one is joining the team right now. But looking to the future I’m not sure what to do. At least I have lots of time to plan for it.

In the meantime, the boys are enthused about entering the RECF video competition, I’m sure we can use extra talent for that. And I’m thinking about starting a robotics club at school or the library to help assess and grow talent. Well, I’ll think about doing this until DH reminds me I don’t have time for it and by the way, we have bills to pay.

Help! Do you have any suggestions on how to tap into this enthusiasm without turning this from a fun outside project into something that sucks up too much of my time and energy?

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