Anyone who stays late at theCO on Thursday nights knows all about the stream of kids carrying robotics equipment to the event space. These students are a part of the CO:bots Meetup hosted by theCO, in partnership with Vex Robotics, and come to practice their skills.
Vex Robotics announces a new game every April, and students are charged with the task of designing and program a robot that is able to compete in head-to-head matches against other robots. Recently, the students participated in a competition at Brentwood Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, and several walked away with awards.
Joshua Bernheisel, a 13 year old 8th grader at North East Middle School, has been a part of CO:bots for just over a year and placed at the Brentwood competition. Joshua says, “Robotics means finding solutions to a problem that maybe you didn’t know existed, and going through certain processes to find a good solution--and sometimes even find out what that could even mean.”
Joshua and his robot performed well at the competition, and received a “Think” award, for a consistent autonomous program. He says, “I liked working together with other teams to accomplish our goal. To choose who you’re working with is kind of a fun thing.”
Jay Bernheisel, Joshua’s father, watched the students practice from the couch in the corner of the event space. As a professor of Engineering at Union University, Jay is exciting to watch his son develop an interest and passion for programming and building.
“I am thrilled that he gets to work with the kids in CO:bots, and Mr. Rhodes their mentor. And of course, I’m glad when Joshua comes to me for advice, even though he rarely does, because he is usually looking at YouTube or other kids’ robots,” Jay laughed. “He’s just done so much on his own, and he’s very self motivated.”
Not only does Jay appreciate the chance for Joshua to hone his programming skills, but he values the way that Robotics encourages kids to interact. He says, “One thing I really like about the competition format is that you have two robot alliances. You’re always working with someone else when you’re competing, and if you want to win then it behooves you to play well with others and initiate conversations with other teams.”
Usually the way robotics works is local high school and middle schools have either robotics teams as an extracurricular activity, or programming classes. Unfortunately, the students in CO:bots come from schools that don’t have those opportunities. Because of this, the group is full of diversity in its educational background, with students coming from public, private, and homeschool programs.
One of the most active parents in the group is Gina Wade, whose son, Charlie, has been active in CO:bots for the past year and a half. “Charlie is homeschooled,” Gina says, “so opportunities like this don’t exist very often for him. If he couldn’t come to theCO every Thursday night and hang out with his friends, and get his robot out on the field then it would be a huge blow to him to not have that “nerd outlet,” as he puts it. It’s a great community for him.”
Charlie also earned an award at the competition for design, which was awarded based off of a book that the student keeps to show the design process.
Although the students placed well at the tournament, it did not come without hardwork and dedication. Many hours are put into the look, feel, and performance of these robots.
Gina says, “This is hard. What they do is hard, and it comes with a lot of failure and picking yourself up and then working to make it better. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids to really do that in a safe place. And theCO has brought that.”
As many of the students would be unable to compete without a Vex Robotics team, Gina says that CO:bots have given the kids a chance to try something they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. “We were just people who all needed a place, and Mr. Rhodes and theCO have all made that happen,” she says.
Congratulations to Joshua and Charlie, and also Sara Beth and Raina, who won an award for “Sportsmanship,” for their exuberance.
theCO is happy to be able to provide an opportunity for kids to build both community and robots, and help facilitate the development and strengthening of their talent.