Back in 2010 two teachers at Travis Elementary, Sandy Cox and Dianne Aldridge, with the support of Principal Natalie Griffin, agreed to commit for one year to start up an after-school program for LEGO robotics.
These teachers knew kids liked LEGOs, enjoyed building structures, and were especially thrilled to be able to bring their creations to life and have them perform tasks. A short three years later, Travis has produced the eighth best Inventions Robotics team in the entire state of Texas.
This is a phenomenal success for a small town program competing in an ever-popular extracurricular activity against school districts that are many times their size, have been participating in robotics much longer, and have more money to spend on their programs.
That first year, Travis robotics sent two teams to regional competition in the area of Intermediate Arena: one team, the Robo Rams, made up of Alex Blissitte, Dane Rasmussen, Lane Crawford and Ross Bullock, placed second, qualifying them for state competition in San Angelo where they ranked 15th out of 40.
The second year of the program, sponsors Sandy Cox and Randy Marshall (now asst. principal at Travis), decided to hold a campus competition of their teams’ “Sumo Bots,” which were designed to use the strength of their build to push an opponent off of a mat.
The Beasty Bots team made up of Kate Gilbreath, Kiarra Pruitt, Chance Mahan, Brandon Williams and Scott Leek emerged victorious and their winning run was broadcast on the Travis news channel.
This past year, sponsors Dianne Aldridge and Sandy Cox, along with their team members, decided it was time to return to regional competition. When Aldridge moved to the Jr. High, Sandy Cox took over both teams – a formidable challenge. Travis sent these two teams to regional competition in the area of Intermediate Inventions and, again, one team, the “Fire Busters,” (formerly known as the “Arsonists”) placed second, qualifying them for state.
Last month, the Fire Busters team, made up of 6th-graders Brady Huseman (Captain), Brandon Williams, Weston Davis and 5th-grader RW Aldridge headed to state competition just south of Houston in Deer Park.
Their bot was designed to assist and safeguard first responders by alerting them to the origin of a heat source in a fire and setting off an alarm to its location. The team had to build the robot, program it, journal their research and testing, and sell, via presentation, the market viability of their product to a group of judges.
The judges were so impressed with the team's log book they requested photocopies to be sent to the Texas Computer Education Agency’s robotics office, the entity that sponsors these competitions, to be used to train robotics competition judges. Now that's a compliment!
Due to the success of and interest in this robotics program, its influence is now beginning to be felt on other campuses in the district. Principal Kelly Wilkerson of the Junior High has decided to add LEGO robotics as a science elective in the course catalog for the next school year.
With a current focus on STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) in many districts and the widespread rise of robotics in K-12 education, this move is not only an academically sound choice, but will likely be a popular one with many students.