Sparsh Jain is an intern at Rewired.
In late November, Dillan Shah approached Rewired to ask for help getting his team to the VEX IQ Ringmaster Challenge. His team, Gear Squad, recently qualified for the national round of the competition.
The VEX IQ ringmaster challenge is an international robotics competition for elementary and junior high school students in which students must form teams and build robots to perform challenges. We were highly impressed by the remarkable curiosity, determination and genuine love of learning shown by the 13-year-old boys. It was an honor to support Gear Squad who were representing Queen Elizabeth’s School — Barnet — in the UK.
The challenge presents a complex problem and allows students to engineer a solution whichever way they like. This style of hands-on, creative, and exploratory learning is a welcome change to a traditional classroom setting.
VEX IQ is brilliant in its approach to encourage critical thinking by allowing students to design their own solution. The challenge is also designed to promote teamwork as team members must collaborate among themselves as well as with other groups to develop effective strategies. Additionally, the students must prepare a STEM-related research project on a topic of their selection.
Gear Squad chose to research the potential of robotics in enhancing the IVF process, as well as the ethical implications of such an application.
Gear Squad’s journey towards the final competition in Kentucky started with a regional challenge in London. On Saturday 9 December 2017, I went to Fortismere school in London to attend their performance at the Regional Competition. The team includes Dillan Shach, group leader, Varun Vijaykumar who programmed the robot, Shilacsan Lingakumar who designed the robot, Alex Woodcock who built the robot, and Vihaan Jain who led the STEM research project.
Gear Squad are not newcomers to such a competition, having won two regional and three national titles, including the Excellence Award (the highest accolade in the VEX IQ Programme) at last year’s televised National finals in Kentucky, US.
“Training takes place daily before school, at lunchtimes, and then after school,” Dillan told me in an interview. Dillan’s father chimed in about the boys tinkering with the robot to make last-minute adjustments at two o’clock in the morning of the day of the regional competition, and then hearing them up at five o’clock rehearsing their performance.
At the competition, Gear Squad had a slow start with scores below their expectations. However, they immediately made alterations to their robot and the code, and began working more effectively among themselves and with other teams.
At the end of the day, Gear Squad won the competition with a score of 143, the highest of the 23 teams attending. The boys also won two other awards: the teamwork award for getting the highest score with their partners, and the STEM award for producing the best research project.
With these results, Gear Squad has qualified for the national competition in February 2018.
The key factor in their victory was their love of what they were doing, with genuine joy in every step of the process, and true excitement to face intellectual challenge.
Much can be learned from the VEX IQ’s endeavor to increase engagement in STEM and robotics. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM-related occupations are growing 7% faster than other occupations and generally yield 26% higher incomes. Many of today’s students will be doing jobs that have not even been invented yet.
By encouraging critical thinking skills and creativity, challenges such as these and education more broadly will be able to instill in their students a love of learning that will adequately prepare them for a constantly evolving society. In both STEM as well as humanities, we must all endeavor to encourage youth to think critically and creatively for such skills are useful in all paths of life, regardless of the setting or time.
There is no way to stop the boys of Gear Squad from doing what they love: this is what has brought them to where they are now, and will carry them onto great achievements in the future.
Rewired is excited by the prospect of young people engaged in robotics, and we are delighted to witness in Gear Squad the best of human curiosity and ingenuity.
More on Gear Squad coming soon.
Posted on: December 20, 2017