Students top state in robotics coding competition

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

Students in All Saints Regional, pictured, and St. Raphael and St. Leo the Great Schools all excelled in the statewide Cyber Robotics Coding Competition, ranking in the Top 10 and qualifying for the Dec. 14 finals in Newark. Courtesy photo

Students from three Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton combined their STEM talents and a precise series of zeros and ones to add up to success in the statewide Cyber Robotics Coding Competition. Teams from All Saints Regional Catholic School, Manahawkin; St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, and St. Raphael School, Hamilton, all achieved Top 10 rankings in the computer coding competition to earn their way to the Dec. 14 finals in the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark.

“The kids loved it! They were so excited about the project,” recalled ASRCS technology coordinator Angela Weimer, who with teachers Barbara Panagis and James Carr, mentored the students during the two-month-long contest. “They were also working at home. We created a Google Classroom for them so they could get on and ask each other questions.”

The CRCC, sponsored by the Intelitek STEM and CTE Education Foundation, originated late last year as an eight-week virtual competition for students in New Hampshire. It has grown in size and scope this year to encompass students in grades five through 12 competing in 14 different state-wide contests. A cloud-based platform features a graphical simulation of LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots, or cyber-robots, activated by the student competitors through a series of challenges visible in real-time simulation.

The contest was held in three stages, beginning with Boot Camp that opened Oct. 15 and lasted for about three weeks. Students and educators worked on their choice of more than 50 lessons, called “missions,” to gain or hone knowledge of coding and robotics fundamentals.

“In the Boot Camp phase, students used block coding to guide their virtual robots through a series of challenges… from basic navigation to advanced movements,” Weimer said. “Students had to navigate mazes and collect objects using STEM methodology. They also learned how to create their own coding blocks and functions to speed up their coding process.”

St. Raphael teachers Remi Cruz, Kimberly Smith and Jessie Stafford assisted the Hamilton school’s competitors as they wrote, tested and revised code to drive the virtual robot with touch sensors to navigate a challenging maze or approach and take a street parking space, hints provided.

“Coding has been a regular part of our computer science courses for students in kindergarten through eighth grades for three years,” Cruz said. “Our students competed during their weekly class, [and] since the competition was available online, several students took it upon themselves to complete missions at home.”

The second stage, or qualifiers, was open from Nov. 5 through 14. Students worked to complete more than 20 missions and earn points for their school’s team. Unlike the Boot Camp level, hints were not given to competitors in this stage.

“The qualifying round introduced the students to more difficult tasks and had them work together as a school,” Weimer recalled. “These required [them] to create code, think outside the box and pull on all they had learned throughout the Boot Camp.”

Mike Daneman, St. Leo the Great School technology coordinator, was pleased with the Top 10 ranking his students achieved, and had encouraged a larger group to compete as the team’s skill level emerged.

“The students started off competing within the seventh grade computer coding club. When I saw the success they were having, I decided to open up competition to all of my seventh grade computer classes and, on a limited basis, my fifth-grade computer classes,” Daneman said. “We had done some coding in class before this, but most of it [in] the coding elective club. Coding will most definitely be included in future class lessons.”

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