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NES Rocket Robotics team invited to virtual worldwide event

Published on Thursday, May 13, 2021

three robotics students during practice at school

BCSD photos / Monica Kreber

After placing in the South Carolina FIRST LEGO League competition, Nexton Elementary’s Rocket Robotics team was happy to have ended its season on a high note.

They became one of the top 28 teams in South Carolina, and placed second for their core values presentation as well as top five for their project.

The team’s advisor, fourth-grade teacher Alexis Drummond, sang their praises.

“They did fantastic,” she said. “I am beyond proud of them this year.”

Normally the team would go on to a Southeast Regional meet in another city, but accepted they were not going to be able to do so because of the pandemic.

Then the team got some more good news.

Nexton Elementary’s robotics team is one of 77 high-performing teams from all around the world who will be attending the worldwide Virtual Open Invitational event in June. The event will have teams from more than 25 countries.

The Rocket Robotics team is the only one who will represent South Carolina – and the team is psyched.

“I’m stoked,” Drummond said. “It is absolutely unheard of – this is something we never thought would happen. We’ve never gotten past Regionals, so to get from Regionals to State and now Worlds is enormous.”

The event is not an official FIRST event. It is created by the Droids Robotics and the Share & Learn community, with the help of FIRST officials all around the world.

There is a competition, but students will be participating in events surrounding robot building and coding, core values, and presenting an innovation project regarding getting students moving that they are actively rolling out to their schoolmates.

The students are also eligible for some big awards as well for their project and presentations. The league stands for seven core values, and the students have to present on how their team best represents the core values inside and outside of their robotics program – they discuss innovation, teamwork, professionalism and more.

This year’s project prompt was all about movement and exercise. The students were challenged to find a way to promote exercise among their peers. Drummond said her students noticed how their classmates sit so much during the day, so they developed a system of kits for kindergartners up through fifth-grade to allow them to have movement activities at their seats. All of the kits involved crossing the midline to allow brain function to improve while children are doing the activities.

fifth grader helps third grader with coding

The robotics team has 12 fifth-graders that practices three times a week, and while they prepare for the Virtual Open, they are teaching coding to third and fourth-grade students who are part of the Coding Club.

The robotics students break into groups after school on Thursdays to teach their younger schoolmates how to code robots, and familiarize them with the online program, LEGO MINDSTORMS. The fifth-graders teach both in-person and virtually to about 26 students.

Drummond said the school previously had a Coding Club that went on a hiatus because of the pandemic, but the fifth-graders want to leave a legacy at the school, so they came up with the coding lessons.

The Coding Club is now completely student-run, from the applications that were put out to the third and fourth-graders, to the lesson planning.

Students have to apply to be on the robotics team, and being part of the Coding Club gives them some “bonus credits.”

Racicot is a programmer for the robotics team and Culp helps with engineering tactics.

In a recent coding session, Liam Racicot and Mason Culp teamed up to give a virtual lesson on rotations, driving and steering the robot.

“We just created a program that…turns left and right,” Racicot said. “Last week we taught them going forward and backwards and assigned them homework. …We ran that program today and now we’re just working on this.”

Racicot and Culp said they are both excited about the competition – but admitted it is also a little intimidating.

“It’s exciting but also very scary; we’re going to be competing with teams from different countries,” Culp said.

Third-grader Jack Fagan is an active Coding Club member who hopes to be a part of the robotics team in the future. He said he enjoys coding, and it aligns with his future career goals.

“I’m learning coding when I’m younger so I can make video games when I’m older,” he said.

After their coding lessons, the robotics team members split into groups – one works on the robot competition while the other group works on their focus project (the movement kits).

Justice VanBeek has served as the team’s president for two years. She said she is looking forward to the presentation portion of the competition.

As far as the Coding Club goes, VanBeek enjoys teaching the younger students.

“I feel like I’m helping them a lot and it’s exciting to see how much I’ve grown, too, because I feel like every time I’m teaching them what to do, it makes me realize how much I know how to do now, and I just feel so proud of everybody,” she said.

two students' heads facing computer screen while talking about robot



Monica Kreber