Mililani Mauka Elementary Robotics Team Qualifies for VEX IQ Worlds

Daisy Ann Hipolito, Reporter

     On March 2, the Mililani Mauka Elementary VEX IQ Robotics team competed at the statewide division of the Worldwide VEX IQ Competition at Sacred Hearts Academy. Two teams entered the competition and both left with an invite to the world division tournament that was held in Louisville, Ky. from April 28 to 30. Team 241E and Team 241M were the first teams from Mauka Elementary to both qualify for Worlds in the same year. Each team contained six members, all current fifth grade students.

    “Before the competition we were really nervous because even though we prepared a lot we were nervous about all the other teams ‘cause we knew it was a statewide competition,” said Team 241M member Grace Delosreyes. “But when we went to the tournament, as the day grew on, we felt more used to it and we enjoyed ourselves and I’m really excited for Worlds.”

    This year’s robotics team began meeting in the summer of 2018 and throughout the year learned how to build and program robots. The VEX IQ curriculum centers around the participation of the students, meaning that most, if not all, of the work put into the robot must be done by the students. “The founder was Dean Kamen and his goal was to get more students involved, especially girls because girls are underrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field. So he wanted to engage students to get a hands-on experience learning engineering,” said Mililani Mauka Elementary Robotics coach Dave Morishige.

    Robotics coach Cynthia Takamoto added, “It’s amazing how much these kids have grown in their communication skills, in working together. They come here in the mornings, every morning, they come at lunch, I mean they’ve grown really close to each other. A lot of them have really blossomed and come out of their shells because they were so quiet.”

    The VEX IQ Robotics competitions consisted of two parts: the performance tasks and the interviews. The performance task consisted of Skills, where the team had to operate their robot independently, and Alliance, where the team had to work together with another VEX IQ team and drive together. These events were when the teams were able to put their robots into action, completing a task while avoiding any obstacles.

In addition to this, both teams had to also undergo questionings given by a selection of judges and interviews about their robot and their process. “So actually, during competitions we would also get interviews similar to this, which are by judges asking us about like, ‘How did you build your robot?’ ‘What’s the process of how you built your robot?’ like ‘How’s your program going?’” said Team 241E member Maille Malone.

    Team 241M member Chase Pacpaco added, “It was a little scary at first, but after a couple more interviews and questions I got more used to it,”

    By the end of the statewide competition, Team 241E won an award for their STEM research project. The students created and submitted a video with a proposed solution on the current problem of pedestrian accidents in Hawai’i. Team 241M placed fifth in the state for their Skills performance task. “I felt very happy that we were going to Worlds. So I actually, after we actually got the award, I broke down crying because I was so happy that we got it,” said Malone.

    Ernie Lee added, “I’m gonna feel a little bit nervous and a little bit happy that we’re gonna be in Kentucky and that there’s like 400 teams gonna be there that are competing with and against us.”

    Along with the two robotics teams, their five coaches joined them on their trip to Kentucky. They wanted to both support and mentor the students they’ve helped and watched over the course of this school year. “We’d like to thank the coaches because they helped us with the whole way of robotics and giving us advice,” said Mia Binnings.

    Malone added, “I’d like to thank them for always encouraging and believing in us for us to always do good in our competitions and they always knew that we would be able to do something if we put our mind to it.”

    The VEX IQ program has also cleared the path for many kids in the robotics program. “For me personally, I think it gives them a heads up in the real world because it provides them with the skills that you will need in order to become successful,” said Morishige. “It was nice because we actually asked them, ‘Where do you see yourself in 20 years?’ We asked them that question said engineering, programming and I don’t think you would have heard those answers if it wasn’t for robotics.”

    Team 241E consisted of four girls and two boys and Team 241M consisted of three girls and three boys. “I think it gives them opportunity to see their future jobs in STEM. A lot of them are talking about engineering and programming now that they see what’s involved in it,” said Takamoto.

    Robotics coach Lori Jakahi added, “It’s a famous thing they always say, ‘Nerds rule the world,’ and we tell them, ‘Don’t be shame. Nerds rule the world.’ For me, I want the kids to be able to work with others; to me that’s super important. And being on a team of six, the students have to work with their strengths and also work on their weaknesses though; in order for the team to be successful, they have to be able to work together.”

    At the world division tournament, Team 241E won the STEM award in their division, ranking them in the top 5 research projects in the world.