Grand Forks robotics teams win awards at state competition
Ten local teams qualify to compete at World Champion robotics event in May
GRAND FORKS – Several teams from Grand Forks public schools were named state champions in the North Dakota VRC State Championship competition at Red River High School.
Robotics teams from Discovery and Lake Agassiz elementary, South Middle School and Red River High School earned the title of state champion. To date, six RRHS teams have earned the title, according to Eric Ripley, director of career and technical education and technology for Grand Forks Public Schools.
The Grand Forks school district “was well represented, both in participation and overall award winners,” in the state competition, Ripley said.
The RRHS teams “have always won the state championship being partnered with students from other schools,” said Joseph Ostgarden, RRHS science teacher and VEX adviser. “This is the first year it has been an all-RRHS state championship. In fact, the championship match were two RRHS teams versus two RRHS teams this year.”
Ten robotics teams from Grand Forks public schools have qualified to attend the World Championship in May in Dallas, Texas. They are, in the elementary school competition, Discovery’s Trailblazer Black and Trailblazer Green; Lake Agassiz’ Mustangs3 (Discovery and Lake Agassiz teams were partnered), and Viking’s Bolts; in the middle school competition, South’s Alpha Males, Green Machine and Sun Devils; and in the high school competition, RRHS’s Anthropomorphic Canary, Theoretically a Roomba, Complex Team Decision and Galactic Gorillas.
Of the 240 students who competed in the event, about 180 were Grand Forks students, some as young as second grade, Ostgarden said.
The event included three separate competitions — Elementary VEX IQ, Middle School VEX IQ and a blended middle-and-high-school VEX V5 competition, he said. Of the 53 teams that competed across all three events, 38 were from Grand Forks public schools.
“A school can register and compete with as many teams as they see fit,” he said, “although they all compete separately as part of the competition.”
The competition “is all about teamwork,” Ostgarden said, “teamwork within your own team and teamwork with other teams. That teamwork comes from communicating with those other teams ahead of time and strategizing with them to make the most out of your match with that other team. ”
The students “are also documenting and following the engineering design process in their team notebooks and (being) interviewed about that process and what they’ve done,” he said. They also gain more technical skills such as programming and building skills they are working on and improving throughout their participation in robotics.
In the Grand Forks school system, robotics started as a high school-oriented activity, but in the past three years advisers have worked hard to expand the program to middle and elementary schools, Ostgarden said.
The growing interest in robotics comes from the students building their own robot “and figuring out how to make it do what they want it to do,” he said, “but also from the competition itself.”
The students can actually control the robot they have built and compete with that robot cooperatively at the lower grade levels or competitively at upper grade levels, he said. “Each year the game is different, which helps to keep the competition fresh and exciting, and it poses new challenges that the students need to figure out and solve.”
Some Grand Forks students are beginning to identify themselves “as ‘robotic kids,’ because this is what they focus on during the year – not baseball or hockey,” Ostgarden said. Giving them a pathway to continue their involvement in robotics from elementary through high school “is amazing.”
A lot of his students are multi-sport students who also participate in robotics, he said. “But I’ve got many more that devote their entire school year, and even their summer, just to do robotics and spend their time building and working on robots and preparing for the coming season.”