DOWNEY - Hoping to foster a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics among high school students, the Columbia Memorial Space Center hosted its first robotics competition last Saturday, where 11 teams, composed of more than 40 local students, battled it out, putting their robotic creations to the test.With more than 200 people in attendance, the Inaugural Robotics Competition sounded more like a baseball game at times as teachers, parents and community members came out in full force to help cheer on the three teams from Downey High School and eight teams from Warren High School. Each team, comprised of three to five students, was given a VEX robotics kit that had to be built and modified for the competition, a head-to-head robotics game known as "Swept Away." The goal of the game is simple: build a robot that can pick up and throw small-scale footballs and soccer balls into the opponent's court. The team who is able to get more balls onto their opponent's side within two minutes wins. One by one, over the course of 36 two-minute rounds, teams were eliminated from the nearly five-hour competition until the undefeated, all-freshman team "YAMS" was left to compete against senior team "Last Minute." "People were screaming, applauding, standing up - they were all really excited. It was an exciting day," said Kaili Rowland, office manager at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, located at 12400 Columbia Way. In a final, three-minute round, team "Last Minute" pulled ahead of team "YAMS" to win the singles, one-on-one tournament, according to Rowland. "We also had field trips going on that day so the kids visiting the space center were just enthralled, looking and asking questions," she said. "This is a part of our greater goal to promote STEM education. The U.S. is behind in STEM education, but there's a movement happening to inspire kids to go into these fields. "Kids may think science and math are boring and that there's no future in it, but actually it is the future," said Rowland over the phone. Hosted on the first floor inside the space center, the all-day tournament was free to the public, kicking off what officials hope will be a perennial event featuring schools throughout the region. Glenn Yamasaki, who teaches engineering and physics at Warren High School, was one of the first instructors to support the Inaugural Robotics Competition, encouraging his students to sign up for the tournament. "After meeting about the competition a couple of months ago, I started an after school robotics club, Wednesday after school and told everyone to come by and form a team," said Yamasaki. "Thirty five students from Warren competed - that's not bad." Upon receiving their VEX robotics kits in early March, students were given several benchmarks to reach prior to the day of competition. In addition, students were encouraged to work on their robots at the space center after school. Rowland said as many 30 students came by the center every afternoon in the weeks leading up to the competition. Next school year, Yamasaki hopes even more students will be interested in joining the robotics club and competing in future tournaments. "We're getting these kids excited about science and technology. Most have never had the chance to work on something like this before," said Yamasaki. "They're having so much fun; they forget that they're learning. It's like you're tricking them to learn." Officials at the Columbia Memorial Space Center said they hope to host more robotics competitions including regional tournaments for other schools in the Greater Los Angeles area.
********** Published: June 2, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 7