Members of the Lincoln Academy Electric Eagles Robotics team prepare their robot for a competition at the recent meet at Erskine Academy.

On Saturday, February 4, the Lincoln Academy “Electric Eagles” Robotics team will host the first-ever home robotics meet in the Nelson Bailey Gymnasium. 36 teams from all over the state will be at LA for the meet, hoping their robot will advance to the State Robotics Meet in February.

The Lincoln Academy robotics team is participating in its third year of competitive robotics. The Electric Eagles competed in their first meet in the winter of 2015. Since then, the LA program has grown, and now offers two ways for students to be involved in robotics: they can take a credited class, which counts towards graduation as a Design, Engineering, and Technology (DET) credit, or they can join the Robotics Club, which meets two or three times a week after school.

The credited class, which meets during a morning course block, works on building robotics skills, while the after-school club is more focused on competition, according to Susan Levesque, a Lincoln Academy Math teacher who runs the LA robotics program.

“Robotics has tremendous educational value,” said Levesque. “Students learn to program in RobotC, which is a C-based language that is directly translatable to other C-based languages, which are widely used in all kinds of computer programming. There are other educational benefits as well. Students take a big task and break it down into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. This is important computational thinking. They learn persistence; to not give up when something doesn’t work the first time.”

Robotics has become widely recognized as a platform to learn hard skills of computer programming as well as practice interdisciplinary problem-solving and teamwork skills. Because of their educational value, robotics programs are growing rapidly and have been embraced by schools around the world.

The type of competitions LA participates in are organized by VEX Robotics. VEX is an organization that sets up a task for student teams to complete using a simple robot. Every year VEX Robotics sets up a single task with several levels of sophistication and different ways to earn points. This task is the same worldwide, so around the world students are challenged with the same parameters and scoring system, making meets relatively universal. Tasks generally involve sorting and moving objects, and teams are scored by how efficiently and completely their robot finishes the task in a given time period. In order to complete the assigned tasks, participants need to build and program their robot before the meet, and drive it effectively during the meet.

This year’s VEX robotics task is called “Starstruck.” Teams are tasked with moving stars and cubes over a fence that is approx 2 feet tall using a robot. During a match, four teams are randomly selected to compete in a ring at one time, and paired into two teams with two red and two blue robots on each team. The teams have a few minutes to strategize, then the clock starts. The blue and red teams square off against each other to put blocks and stars on the other side of the fence. After two minutes in the ring, the team with the fewest blocks and stars on their side at the end of the meet wins.

The February home meet will be the Electric Eagles’ second competition of the 2016-17 season. Teams with a strong record will go on to the VEX State Championship in February, and a few very successful teams will travel to the VEX World Championships which are held in Kentucky in April.

Regardless of their win-loss record, students who participate in robotics are learning essential high-tech skills to prepare them for the new economy, explained Leveque. “Once we get the rules of the game, students go through the whole process: conception, design, build, try out, redesign, experiment, and this has to be done and redone. This iterative process has a lot of educational value: think, create, revise; think, create, revise. From start to finish, the students are solving problems, working as a team, and thinking creatively using skills of programming and construction. No matter how the team does next week, they are all learning.”

The event is free and open to spectators, and will run from 8:30 am until about 4:30 pm on Saturday, February 4 in LA’s Bailey Gymnasium.