Three years ago, after another successful robot season by VEX Team 7842, officials from North Island Community College (NIC) and NIDES/Navigate met to talk about how to build capacity around robotics and related fields. Navigate had experienced VEX Robotics student alumni, teachers, robotics equipment (LEGO NXTs) and NIC had the facilities and a system for enrolling young students in summer camps.
In 2016 teacher Meiko Matsumoto and VEX alumni Andrew and Mitchel Gair (team captains of 7842B and D) combined to offer eight robotics camps from the West and East Coast of Vancouver Island to the Northern end of the Island. This was a distance of just over 500km. Approximately 200 students were involved in the camps in 2016. In September of 2017, the first graduate of the summer camps joined team 7842. Here is the video from our very first year (2016):
In 2017 Andrew and Mitchel Gair, having competed in VEXU, were able to return to NIC and once again offer Summer camps on the northern half of Vancouver Island. This was another successful summer. Most camps were quickly filled. We were able to offer a special camp for Aboriginal students and to return, thanks to our sponsors, and offer opportunities to students on the West Coast and North end of Vancouver Island where student registration is limited because of the smaller sizes of those communities and NIC facilities.
This last summer our partnership continued. We were able to expand and offer several Tech Explorer Camps, in addition to the mainstream robotics camps. Meiko, Andrew and Mitchell were joined by Teagan Parkin (who competed for both 7842 and 1136) before graduating in June. In all we had more than 232 students come out and learn about robotics. We were able offer our first girls only camp and expand to the Village of Gold River. In Courtenay and Campbell River the robot programs are now organized to offer a beginner and a more advanced opportunity (for those students who have already participated in a summer camp).
Our partnership hopes in the summer of 2019 is to continue to offer Robot and Technology Camps AND to offer Math Camps. We have a number of graduated students, from VEX teams in our communities, who can step up to serve as support staff or lead instructors in our programs. In addition to the formal summer camps, our student alumni have been asked to offer one day and week night opportunities to interested students in Campbell River and Nanaimo.
For a number of years the ENTER Program (eAcadmy of New Technologies, Engineering and Robotics) hosted Black Box Challenges at Aspen Elementary School. ENTER students are part of NIDES/Navigate. The Black Box Challenges gathered elementary students from across the Comox Valley and from neighboring communities (from Campbell River, to the North, and Nanaimo, to the south) and asked them to build and program a one day robot. Students would, typically, be given a robot kit and a laptop and asked to build a bot that could complete a two-dimensional challenge or, for more advanced roboticists, a sensor-based challenge.
Parents and others would gather in the early afternoon to see how folks had fared. Students could come with their own kits (thus the term Black Box), but had to build and program a robot from scratch. We never declared winners at these challenges. They have been a way for students to get out and find others who shared their passion for robotics.
Sadly, due to a serious health challenge for the lead teacher/coach, we have not, yet this year had a Black Box Challenge.
Blackbox Challenges For Adults
NIDES coaches and parents in the community have wanted a place where they too can play. In November a group of adults met to talk about how we might create a way to pull these adults together. Using some of the ideas from LEGO Great Ball Contraptions, a group of six met a couple of week later to use a variety of materials to build a GBC. VEX, VEX IQ, 3D printed parts and LEGO blocks were all used on the first build day. The group hopes to meet monthly going forward. Once the elementary Black Box Challenges get going, we hope to use the back third of the school gym to showcase the Adult Black Box Challenge.
Jeff Stewart, the long-time Principal of NIDES/Navigate, was inspired by the different robotics activities in School District 71. Last June, he worked with robot coaches around the district, community members, and our partners at North Island College (NIC) to pull students and adults together under the umbrella of Robotics 71.
Almost 100 students, parents, coaches and NIC staff celebrated the launch of Robotics 71 at a dinner hosted by NIC at the Comox Valley Campus. Students and robotics alumni involved in the dinner had taken part in VEX IQ, VEX EDR, VEXU, First Robotics, Skills Canada, and local Blackbox Challenges for elementary students.
Participants enjoyed their meal, slipped into their new Robotics 71 t-shirts and commented on how far we had come over the years.
Starting in the Fall of 2018, several 7842 coaches and alumni met with the Principal and Vice-Principal of John Barnsby Secondary School in Nanaimo. By mid-November, the school had reached out to its students and feeder elementary schools and started its first Robotics club. While presently focused on LEGO Robotics, Barnsby hopes to start a VEX Robotics club. 7842 alumni Andrew and Mitchell Gair are acting as the coaches while Barnsby staff and parents get up to speed.
BC Tech Summit
For the past two years, 7842 team members have joined other VEX Robotics students from the Lower Mainland and have been invited to present VEX Robotics at the BC TECH Summit. Over the two years, several thousand students have watched as we presented mock competitions of that year’s game. Team members from 7842B, F, D, and K were able to share their experience from Provincials and Worlds.
Last year there were more than 7,600 people in attendance over the two-day event. Provincial Premier John Horgan and a number of political and business leaders also attended. Student presenters were able to explore the full event and connect with different post-secondary institutions and companies engaged in the Technology sector in British Columbia.
Each year, VEX team members and students in the ENTER 1 (grades six and seven) and ENTER 2 (grades eight and nine) programs participate in Skills Canada. Students build Sumo Bots, Gravity Cars and Spaghetti Bridges, competing on both a regional and provincial level.
Several of the Nanaimo 7842 members are exploring a return to Skills Canada robotics in 2019. Many team members competed in Skills Canada for the first three years we operated. As a result of scheduling issues (availability of coaches and Worlds timetable) we have not competed for the last two years.
NIDES Robotic Scholarships
For the fifth year, NIDES/Navigate will offer Robotics Scholarships. Money for these scholarships come from 7842 sponsors and community members. While the sum available is modest (about the cost of a post-secondary course), we have been able to expand the number of scholarships over the years. This year, students will be able to apply for a Team Leadership, Engineering, and Programming Scholarship.