VIENNA, W.Va. (WTAP) - According to Coach Melissa Taylor, Vienna Elementary's Viking Voyagers took home the 2nd place trophy at this weekend's state robotics tournament.
The Viking Voyagers will now be 1 of 48 teams worldwide to compete in the FIRST Lego League Carolinas Open Invatational in May, 2020. Held at the Kingston Plantation Resort in Myrtle Beach, The Carolinas Open will host over a dozen international teams, including teams from Iceland and New Zealand.
The Putnam Pink Ladies took home first place at state and have been invited to the world tournament in Detroit. Only one team per state can attend the world tournament.
WTAP will be visiting the Voyagers later this week to get a reaction.
Vienna Elementary students are among the youngest competitors at this weekend’s West Virginia state robotics tournament. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League is a competitive robotics league for children between nine and fourteen years of age – typically including fourth through eighth graders. However, Vienna’s primarily fourth and fifth grade team has an eight year old third grader on it in their first state qualifying season ever.
The Vienna Elementary robotics club was started a few years ago by a former Vienna Elementary teacher. The club has since dubbed their team “The Viking Voyagers.”
The club was recently taken over by Melissa Taylor, in her first year as the school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher.
“This is my first time doing it, and they have done awesome. They’re super amazing kids, so they actually make it pretty easy,” said Taylor.
Taylor was previously an English teacher. Incredibly, fifth grade students from last year’s team taught Taylor and Coach K.C. Doepker how to code on an iPad or computer.
Students only participated in a scrimmage against the Boys & Girls Club of the Mid-Ohio Valley and in a state qualifier tournament at West Virginia University at Parkersburg this season. Between the two events, they made the cut for state.
“Oh, at the scrimmage, we rocked it! And we won the innovation award at the state qualifier,” said Kayden McDonald, a Viking Voyager.
To compete, students design, build, code and use Lego robots in a game.
“So we program and code our robot to do each mission on our Lego table. We do our mission and we only have a certain amount of time. We have two and a half minutes,” said Hayden Carey, a Viking Voyager.
On top of the robot game, students are also judged on what’s known as an “innovation project.” This year’s project was all about making Vienna Elementary ADA accessible.
However, implementing such a project proved expensive.
“So we realized that implementing an incline platform lift is an expensive thing to do. So we wanted to provide our school with a solution for when a child or a teacher would come to our school, we would have a solution to put in place,” said Doepker.
As Coach Taylor understands it, when a need for accessibility is presented, the Wood County Board of Education will be more likely to spend money. According to Taylor, the fourth and fifth grade classrooms and the STEM lab are currently inaccessible to anyone wheelchair bound. But even without a clear and present need, the voyagers are taking initiative to find funding for improved accessibility.
Along with a solution to accessibility, student ideas were pitched to lift a manufacturer to improve their products.
“Actually, when I was talking to the manufacturer, I did tell them about the kids ideas and so they were really excited to hear that,” said Doepker.
To introduce their project to the judges at state, the Viking Voyagers put on a news reporting skit in which Kayden McDonald reports on the school’s inaccessibility and asks his fellow voyagers what’s being done to fix the problem. They mainly reply with ideas from their innovation project.
“It’s pretty fun. I get to be a news reporter and I get my trust sidekick Parker to help me. He’s the camera director,” said McDonald.
Student presentations will be judged at the state tournament. Carey says that includes how clearly students speak and how clearly their solution to their problem is presented.
Doepker says robotics club has helped many students build confidence, and Carey agrees.
“Some of our team members were very shy and didn’t come out of their shell very much,” said Carey. “After they joined robotics, I realized a difference in them and how they came out of their shell more.”
The Viking Voyagers will face off against 35 other teams this Saturday at Fairmont State University.