WHAT'S UP WITH BOTS: TMS Robotics hosts tournament for elementary, middle school students

Feb. 12—Oklahoma robotics students put their skills and knowledge to the test during the Tahlequah Middle School Presents: VIQRC Rumble, on Saturday, Feb. 10.

Kym Tinsley, TMS robotics coach and STEM teacher, said the competition featured 45 teams with around 200 students taking part.

In the past, Tinsley said, they have hosted three to four tournaments each year, but the 2023-'24 year has prompted TMS to help elementary schools host one and hold two of their own. Tinsley said the events give students a chance to grow in their knowledge of STEM and raise funds for TMS Robotics.

"We had a fantastic tournament," Tinsley said. "Teams were able to complete all of their requirements by the end of the day. The flow of the tournament went very well, and competitors and spectators enjoyed themselves."

Briggs Robotics Coach Haley Davenport said she had four teams competing at the tournament, with the TMS Presents: VIQRC Rumble being the closest one they attend all season. Besides not having to leave so early, Davenport said, another positive aspect of the tournament being so close is increased parent and guardian attendance.

"It's nice because it's easier for our parents to come and be able to see what we do," Davenport said. "I think we have three or four different parents here today, where normally we would only maybe have one be able to attend when it's farther [away]."

Tinsley said the event actually had two tournaments taking place, with both elementary and middle school competitions.

"This was only the second time this year where elementary schools were able to compete with only elementary schools," Tinsley said. "In most tournaments, elementary schools have to compete with middle school teams because of the number requirement for a tournament to be considered a qualifying event."

Tinsley said the contests have students score as much as possible in one minute, with the robots they have already programmed and built prior to the tournament. Competitors have to pick up colored blocks and place them in one out of three goals, but more points can be obtained if one goal is filled with the same colored blocks, if their robot is parked in the loading zone at the end, and if the large red blocks are knocked off their starting positions.

Ruxton Hummingbird, a member of the TMS Robotics team called the Brobots, said he finds robotics to not only be a fun sport, but one that is creative. Another member of the 31408F Brobots, Marshall Leblanc, said making it to the finals can be the most difficult and stressful part of robotics.

While the evolution of the robots is a season-long process and students may build the machines before they walk onto the tournament floor, adaptation is constantly taking place. This can be the case either because of a last-minute break in equipment, or the students needing to make the robot better for the next competition.

"They give you basic robot designs, but nothing that can actually be competitive, so you're constantly changing and revamping your bot throughout the year. Like I have two teams who completely built a new robot this last week from the one they had," Davenport said.

A couple of members of the Briggs Robotics team called the SkittleBusters, Brandt Teague and Adilynn Eubanks, said robotics can be stressful when a robot falls a part and has to be fixed. The Skittlebusters were among the teams that had to rebuild their machine before the tournament, as they just wanted to create a new design.

"We just got tired of our first bot. It could only pick up one [block] at a time," Brandt said.

In robotics tournaments like this one, there are multiple winners, with the elementary tournament having 60011D PickleBotz from Briggs Public School take the top honor, called the Excellence Award. The Tournament Champion was awarded to 10050J COGS from Heritage Elementary and the 60011D PickleBotz from Briggs School.

The middle school tournament had 93558V The Pex Heads from Reed Springs Intermediate win the Excellence Award; and the Tournament Champions was won by 29627D Beijgo from Bixby Middle School and 60011B SkittleBusters from Briggs School.

"There are a few things I hope they gain from tournaments they attend," Tinsley said. "Problem-Solving skills, teamwork, and communication are the greatest things I hope they gain. As they work throughout the day, they develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they encounter challenges and find solutions to overcome them during the tournament. Working in teams and with other teams, students are learning how to collaborate effectively, delegate tasks, communicate ideas, and support each other to achieve common goals. Students also work on communication skills by presenting their robot designs strategies, and results to judges, fellow competitors, and spectators."

What's next

Tahlequah Middle School Robotics will host the 2023-'24 Oklahoma VIQRC State Championship March 2 at the Northeastern State University Event Center from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.