Problem solving skills. Critical thinking skills. Engineering know-how. Teamwork.
These are just a few things one DeKalb County School District (DCSD) robotics team channeled when claiming a recent victory at Jekyll Island.
Tucker Middle School’s robotics team, TMS Robotics, recently claimed the Champion Award at a FIRSTLEGO League event on Jekyll Island. As winners of the Champion Award, TMS Robotics was considered the best overall team of the competition. The team will also be eligible to compete in upcoming regional and state competitions following the victory.
“This feels awesome—the kids worked really hard and have been working hard for months,” said Amber Clinton, technology and engineering teacher at Tucker Middle and TMS Robotics coach. “To see this culmination makes it all worth it.”
Clinton, with fellow coaches Nathan Williams and Eric Knapp, said her team—made up of Brooke Slone, Skylar Slone, William Vickrey, Jayden Mcliwaine, Ayden Whitely, Rebecca Larkin, Kylie Slone, Parsa Arani, Skyler Roberts, Kathy Reyes-Gomez, Obsineeti Muddle and Jade Lowery—was yelling in jubilation and crying with happiness upon being named the best at the competition.
FIRST LEGO League robotics competitions involve participating in a field exercise, developing a unique solution to a particular problem, and using the league’s core values. Past competitions have revolved around nanotechnology, the environment, climate, transportation, and more.
This year, students’ projects revolved around outer space, titled “Into Orbit.” Each team addressed a problem having to do with space, such as a spacecraft, space food, colonization, the moon, other planets, and more.
TMS Robotics was obviously up for the challenge. Clinton said the team’s natural ability to work together, dole out tasks, and appoint leadership made all the difference.
“The team is completely self-driven and self-motivated,” Clinton said. “The team wanted a leader in each section of the project, so they appointed them. This was completely their idea. I don’t have to motivate them; they come to work themselves in the morning, during lunch, and after school in the afternoon. Any free time they have is dedicated to TMS Robotics.”
At times, dividing parts of the project has become necessary, according to Clinton. Since TMS Robotics spans all grade levels, students are on different schedules. If students are not completely organized and communicative, this can create problems.
“Because [the team] is all on different schedules, they want to work on different challenges,” said Clinton. “We encourage the team to write notes, use our white boards to send messages to one another. Communication has been a challenge, but with any middle school program, you’ll run into that problem.”
Just being part of TMS Robotics has increased the team’s capabilities in other classrooms. Forming timelines, presenting, working without much direction, and operating with limited guidelines translates well to other subject areas.
In addition, robotics participants obtain real-world application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) principles.
“These students have contacted industry professionals,” said Clinton. “In some cases, they’ve emailed college professors. They do it all on their own at their own volition. Not a lot of middle schoolers have that mindset.”
Where such motivation comes from is hard to pin down. According to Clinton, robotics students are typically more motivated than the average student, but certain students become motivated by simply participating.
“I’ve seen students succeed—not initially, but after they’ve developed into it,” Clinton said. “Some jump right in. Some see their peers behaving that way, and it inspires them to become better and perform better. It’s seeing everyone around them being motivated, but it’s also about wanting to do well at competitions. They all want to be great and at the same level.”