The effort to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math subjects in engaging and exciting ways has led many local schools to form competitive VEX Robotics teams.
The VEX Jets, Joe Walker Middle School’s team, has flown high above the rest, attending the World Championship this year, for the third time in a row.
“It’s a huge opportunity for our students to make it to the World Championship,” said Matt Anderson, teacher at Joe Walker Middle School and coach of their VEX robotics team. “Making it three years in a row shows just how great our students are.”
The VEX Robotics World Championship is held each year in Anaheim, California, and is sponsored by engineering industry heavyweights like Northrop Grumman, NASA, Texas Instruments and Chevron. Each season of VEX Robotics competition has a specific challenge or game that teams design their robots to compete in. Teams from around the world compete in more than 400 local events to qualify for the World Championship.
“The competition feels like the Olympics,” said Anderson. “It helps create a very positive association with STEM in our students. They get to see that STEM can be fun and exciting, and meet other kids from around the world who share their interests.”
The VEX Jets third trip to the World Championship is more than a student accomplishment, according to Anderson. “This has really been made possible by our community,” he explained. “We’ve had so many people and organizations pitch in, like West Antelope Valley Education Foundation, Lancaster West Rotary, Woolston and individual parents and families.”
When the VEX Jets first started they needed a drill press to build their robots. One was quickly donated. When they needed a place to store their robots and equipment the community donated a trailer. When they needed a laptop to program their robots, one was purchased with donations.
Their latest gift from the community is a 3D printer that allows the students to model and print plastic parts for their robots in the classroom. It was purchased entirely with donations.
It was also this 3D printer, and the model of their robot that they printed with it, that helped the VEX Jets win the Create Award at the World Championship. Last year they came home from the World Championship with the Energy Award for their team spirit and energy.
What is the next step for the VEX Jets, now that they have returned from their third trip to the World Championship? Anderson says it’s getting mentors into the classroom.
“We’ve done some incredible things,” said Anderson. “But at the end of the day I’m not an engineer. Getting our students some one-on-one time with professional engineers would really push us to the next level.”
Until then, Anderson will be working with his students on the new challenge VEX Robotics has rolled out for the 2014-2015 competition season, looking forward to another trip to Anaheim next year.
Community members wishing to volunteer with the VEX Jets can contact Anderson at Joe Walker Middle School, (661) 943-3258.