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Creativity rules as school kids compete at annual SumoBot Tournament

Click to play video: '‘There’s camaraderie, there’s collaboration’: Robotics tournament turns school kids into coders, engineers' ‘There’s camaraderie, there’s collaboration’: Robotics tournament turns school kids into coders, engineers
WATCH ABOVE: Over 200 Central Okanagan elementary and middle school students between Grades 3 to 10 compete at the 4th annual District SumoBot Tournament with their one-of-a-kind robots. Shay Galor reports – Mar 8, 2019

Learning coding and engineering in school is important — just ask Grade 4 Central Okanagan District student Annaleigha Jesson.

“It’s important to do things like robotics so you’re not just learning on paper,” Jesson said. “You actually get an experience, have fun and just use your imagination.”

That’s why this out-of-the-box young thinker, along with over 200 other students between Grades 3 to 10, are competing at the annual District SumoBot Tournament in Kelowna on March 6.

“For the past two or three months, students have been building and programming robots. We call them SumoBots because they have a sumo wrestling match,” said coding consultant Murray Chalmers. “So today they bring their robots in and they’re having several battles against other schools and other robots to determine who’s got the most powerful SumoBot in the district.”

READ MORE: Calgary high school student’s coding skills earn invitation to Apple event in Silicon Valley

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This is the fourth year of the tournament and its popularity is causing some logistical problems.

“We’re at the stage where we’ve kind of outgrown our space because we’ve got 225 students and over 90 robots,” Chalmers said.

The gymnasium at Hollywood Road Education Services in Kelowna was packed with excited students, teachers and robots of all types.

“They can be as unique as they want to be,” Chalmers said. “And some students, when they get here, they look at their design, they look at somebody else’s, and they go, ‘oh I think that’s a good idea,’ and they start tweaking them as the tournament goes on.”

The competition is open to all Central Okanagan elementary and middle schools that receive robot kits, a learning tool that is quickly spreading through the district.

“There’s a real emphasis in education for programming or coding, and with these robots, they have to program them to battle,” Chalmers explained. “They have to know where the other robot is, they have to sense the edge of the tables so they don’t fall off, they have to know what speed to go so they don’t drive too fast and fall off. So they have to code this.”

Grade 4 student Ethan Helder was excited to win a second round with his high-tech robot.

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“It took a lot of thinking to get something good,” Helder said. “We knew that if there was a white bar it would go under the colour sensor and then possibly back off the ring.”

Another group with four competitors had a different strategy: a robot similar to a snow plow in order to push their competitors out of the ring.

“It’s called a stag beetle. These horns replicate an actual beetle,” Helder said. “We got two straight wins. With our gear system here that really helps, too. We’ve got the front motor powering this wheel and it’s powering all three wheels with these gears and that’s giving us some extra power to push the other bots out of the ring.”

Chalmers adds that it’s all about experiential learning and it’s allowing students to work on many different skills.

“As much as this is a competition, it’s more than that,” Chalmers said. “There’s camaraderie, there’s collaboration. All that cool stuff that you see in education.”

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