FOREST PARK — Students sat quietly in their booths, working frantically to re-program and re-test their robots between the intermittent cheers from a crowd watching the match at the front of the restaurant.
Area middle schoolers turned out in droves on a rainy Friday afternoon to put their skills and talents to the test in the Clayton State University Robotics Bowl.
The exhibition was sponsored by the College of Information and Mathematical Sciences at Clayton State University in partnership with Chick-fil-A’s historic Forest Park Dwarf House inand Clayton County Public Schools.
Organizers said the bowl was designed to further expose students in the district’s growing robotics programs to science-oriented learning experiences.
North Clayton and Rex Mill middle schools have experienced teams. But this is the inaugural year for the Kendrick, Lovejoy, M.D. Roberts, and Jonesboro middle school robotics teams.
“It’s been a learning curve for us, because this is our first time,” said Sylvia Hudson, a robotics coach and the math department chair at M.D. Roberts Middle. “But they’ve learned a lot about programming and math and engineering.”
Friday’s event also served as the kick off to a series of summer science, technology, engineering and mathematics enrichment opportunities at the restaurant, said Eric Stallings, executive general manager at the Forest Park Dwarf House.
“We’re glad to bring robotics here to Forest Park,” he said. “We’re a community organization, and having this (Robotics Bowl) here gets customers asking questions about it when they come in.”
Stallings said the restaurant will sponsor programs and events related to STEM throughout the summer.
The Robotics Bowl included a 2v2 Capture-the-Flag battle in which teams were paired up with each other in round robin tournament play, when students got an informal introduction to working with the EV3 Mindstorms Robotics Kit.
Teams of up to 10 students, at least one adult coach and a Clayton State volunteer were scored on a thematic playing surface on which they had to demonstrate innovation and problem-solving skills.
Tonya Clarke, the district’s director of K-12 mathematics, received a $20,000 Verizon Innovative Learning Grant to help start six after-school middle school robotics teams.
Clarke said each team has plans to compete in Georgia’s FIRST LEGO League robotics tournament next year. She said the annual contest highlights students’ understanding of STEM disciplines while they develop skills in teamwork.
Clayton State’s College of Information and Mathematical Sciences has hosted super regionals each January for the past few years.
Georgia’s FIRST LEGO League Championship Qualifying Round includes 32 teams. Top teams from the six super regionals go to state in late January.
Clayton State math professor Scott Bailey coordinates the super regionals. He refereed Friday’s exhibition at the Dwarf House.
“It’s going pretty well,” said Bailey. “We’re having fun, and that’s what it’s about.”