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Maui Prep students compete against the world’s best in robotics

By Staff | May 7, 2015

The Maui Preparatory Academy Middle School Robotics Team recently competed in the VEX iQ World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

NAPILI – The Maui Preparatory Academy Robotics Team entered the VEX iQ World Championships with the goal of taking Maui Prep into the ranking of the top 30 middle schools in the world.

Competing against 105 teams from around the globe, seven Maui Prep students fought early nerves and nearly achieved their goal, finishing 21st in Programming Skills/Autonomous, 21st in Robotic Operations/Driver Skills and 33rd in Robot Team Work Skills.

Their teacher and coach, Branden Hazlet, director of technology for Maui Prep, noted, “It was a wonderful learning and exploring experience for our Maui students to participate with students from 29 countries in the Vex World Robotics Championships.

“Seeing hardworking students from so many cultures coming together to cooperate in using intriguing technology was something wonderful. The student teams from across the world clearly felt honored to participate in such a massive gathering of clever young minds, an unparalleled gathering of student intellect, in a massive, 1.2 million-square-foot facility,” he continued.

“As a culture, we honor the hard work of athletic teams with fanfare regularly, but it is something too rare that we honor our bright young minds in such a way that reflects their importance for leading the future.”

In late February, the iPueo team – sixth- and seventh-graders Minyang He, Jonah Kirkham, Kila Parnell, Teanu Rodriguez-Furtado, JeroneSamari, Benett Ziegler-Namoa, Hudson Holland, Wilson Tinkler, Levi Tinkler, Malia Pitzer, Bailey Fahey and Brady Golden – earned the Excellence Award at the University of Hawaii-Hilo Astronaut Onizuka Robotics Competition.

This earned them a ticket to the world championships in Louisville, Kentucky from April 14-18. Rodriguez-Furtado, Samari, Ziegler-Namoa, Wilson and Levi Tinkler, Pitzer and Fahey competed, accompanied by Hazlet and Assistant Coaches Ravosh Samari and Kelly Pitzer, “who traveled with us and kept the team sane, on time and eating healthy when they weren’t working on the robot or helping the kids prepare for matches,” Hazlet said.

The Maui Prep students had to rely on teamwork within their own team, but also work in partnerships with other squads at the event.

Beyond the live matches, teams must present engineering justifications that document the robotics’ construction, and give an oral presentation of the students’ design thinking and structural reasoning.

In the autonomous robotics element of the competition, emphasis is put on programming skills by doubling point awards for scoring that can be completed entirely by the robot running pre-coded programs with the use of sensors for direction, distance, light color and other factors.

“Through all these elements, balancing the human interactions with the technical knowledge, a model of education emerges that brings out the whole package of real world skills our students need to thrive in a changing world. And the best part…the students are just having a great time through it all,” Hazlet explained.

“The atmosphere of competition, total stimulation, constantly shifting team alliances and language challenges for communication all really put the emotional maturity expected of middle school students to the test… and it was satisfying to see we had given our Maui students the skills to rise to those challenges.

“We had matches with several teams from South America and Asia, where the other teams spoke only a few words of English at best; some none at all. Between our students and the international students, the teams managed to communicate their robot strengths, assess each other’s abilities, then formulate a specific plan for making highly coordinated moves while continually giving each other feedback on positioning and making adjustments to the plan throughout the match. Thinking and communication skills that have been developed in years of parenting and education were called on for our students’ efforts. Thanks to all who have shaped these kids over the years. They have so much potential and such bright futures.”

Just earning a ticket to the world championships is a remarkable achievement.

“These students spent countless hours designing, building, programming and testing their robots over the course of the season at more than 1,000 local, state and regional competitions, with participation from over 12,000 teams worldwide,” said Jason Morrella, president of the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, the organization that stages the contest.

“The truth is that all of these students leave the competition as winners. The teamwork and problem-solving skills they take away from this experience will successfully prepare them for future careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and serve them throughout their lives.”

The team thanked Maui Economic Development Board; AIO Foundation; Kumu Kaeo Kawaa of Molokai Middle School Robotics; Peter Hansen of Iao Middle School; Peter Park of Sacred Hearts Oahu; the Maui Prep PTSO; the Zeigler, Samari, Pitzer, Tinkler and Holland families; Capiche Restaurant; Lahaina Grill; The Snorkel Store; The Friends of Jo Dorner; Goodfellow Brothers; Juked Apps and everyone who supported the team; as well as Art Kimura, the driving force for robotics education in Hawaii.

One of the event highlights was the announcement of the new 2016 robotics challenge, along with new hardware and software releases. MPA team members are excited and creatively talking about next year’s robot design.

“To have a little school from the pineapple fields of Maui competing with the world’s best in robotics was a great feeling of genuinely helping our kids prepare for dynamic futures in this changing economy, where both intercultural and technical skills are required. Our students and school have definitely grown through this experience of participation in our first world championship,” he concluded.