Inspiring Interest in STEM with Competitive Robotics
Pacific Youth Robotics Society (PYRS – pronounced “peers”) was formed by a group of technically oriented educators, parents, and community members who wanted to give students in BC the opportunity to participate in Competitive Robotics. We formed PYRS not because we are fascinated by robots —although they are pretty cool— but because we have seen first hand the impact that participating in competitive robotics has on our youth. Competitive robotics inspires interest in science, technology, and mathematics (STEM), develops competency in a wide variety of technical and social skills, and gives kids a chance to have fun while learning and growing.
Competitive Robotics in BC: a Decade of Sustained Growth
In 2006, the year of VEX Competitions began in BC, PYRS held first one, and then a second competition, hosting four schools, and an initial total of nine teams between them. Since that time, PYRS has steadily expanded competitive robotics in BC, increasing the number of participating schools, and adding competitions throughout the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
PYRS has found three keys to increased and continued participation:
- partner with educators, government, and professional organizations
- involve students, administrators, parents, and technical professionals
- leadership by technical educators.
Our community focused approach has lead PYRS to become one of the largest organisations of its kind in Canada, hosting 9 local and regional competitions during the 2016/2017 school year, involving more than 140 teams, and 400 students and relying on more than 200 volunteers.
PYRS has been building the competitive robotics community in BC, training coaches and students, and hosting local and regional VEX Robotics Competitions. We still have work to do, as our goal is to extend the Competitive Robotics opportunity to every secondary student in BC; to give all of BC’s youth a head start on STEM.
Competitive Robotics turns Building Robots into a Team Sport
The Game – four robots, paired into Blue and Red teams, compete in 90 second rounds for the highest score. To compete, four teams and their robots take to the square field, remotely instructing their robots to throw balls, pick up rings, or perform other tasks to score points and block their opponents. Tournaments start with round-robin style qualification matches, followed by Elimination Finals. Special awards recognize teams with outstanding Robot Skills in both Autonomous and Teleoperated modes. Just as in other team sports, winners in local VEX Competitions progress to regional events. BC events take part in two regions, Vancouver Island and BC Mainland. Mainland teams aim for the Mainland Provincial Championship, and the top BC teams go on to compete against more than 500 teams from around the world at VEX World Championships.
The Competitors – teams need to design and build their own Robots. In VEX, all teams start with the same range of components, and use prescribed motors, sensors, and wheels to create a robot that can pickup and accurately place or throw objects (bean bags, foam balls, or even large orange cubes), can reach over and under fences, and can attach itself to bars to ‘hang’. Students need to create a robot that perform under computer control (autonomously) and driver control. In addition, at each event teams can earn awards based on design quality, teamwork, and technical proficiency, assessed by volunteer judges drawn from the local technical community.
The Competitions – PYRS Competitions start in October, with events approximately once a month. And just like in other team sports, Robotics teams hone their skills between events. The students spend many hours working together on their robots, optimizing their design, making the robot turn faster, sharper, pick up more weight without tipping, carry more objects at once or perform better in autonomous mode. All with the goal of scoring more points in 90 seconds.
Students Gain STEM knowledge and skills, and more …
In designing and building robots students gain a number of STEM skills. Success demands an understanding of physical concepts such as power, torque and mechanical advantage. Incorporating motors and sensors fosters understanding of electronics and control systems. Programming robotic logic develops skills in abstract problem formulation, deconstruction and symbolic representation.
Further, when Robotics becomes a team sport, students must communicate complex, abstract ideas to team-mates, listen to understand the ideas of others and collaborate to choose solutions. Teams must work together, jointly make design decisions, and manage their time to meet hard deadlines, all the while gaining skills that they’ll use throughout their life.
Students like it because it’s fun.
The flexibility of the VEX Robotics system encourages students to experiment with new ideas. With VEX robotics technology, students rapidly become proficient at assembling and programming their robot, and can quickly build a prototype and see tangible results. Teams are encouraged by their design success, and their progress in competitions, and return to the lab to try more new ideas. This results in a virtuous cycle of iterative design, or simply put, success breeds success. And succeeding is fun!
The VEX Robotics Competition, presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, is the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program in the world with more than 16,000 teams from 40 countries playing in over 1,350 competitions worldwide.
The VEX Robotics system has several advantages when the goal is making competitive Robotics accessible across the province:
- Highly versatile construction system that students can use to tackle new challenges each year, without large investments in parts and equipment
- An affordable base system that individual most schools can afford, or easily fund raise to support
- A system that is accessible to multiple ages and experience levels, catering to both beginners and experts and ranging from Middle School to College
- The same system can be incorporated in curriculum, as has been done by several BC schools, and school boards
VEX Robotics Competitions prepare students to become future innovators with 95% of participants reporting an increased interest in STEM subject areas and pursuing STEM-related careers.
Robotics and Education & Competition Foundation (RECF) – the force behind VEX Competition
RECF a not-for-profit organization, headquartered in the United States, that exists to bring competitive robotics experience to students all over the globe through the VEX Robotics Competition, VEX IQ Challenge for elementary and middle school students, and VEX U. PYRS is a RECF Event partner, licenced to run VEX Robotics Competitions in BC. We rely on RECF to provide the games, the game controls systems, and the infrastructure to register and manage teams, and to participate in the world wide competitive rankings.