Central Schools Qualify For World Robotics Championships

Waialua students Sonny Ciaruffoli, Chai Caplili and Zane Balmoja show off their VEX robotics trophies. Photo from Megan Andrada.

Waialua students Sonny Ciaruffoli, Chai Caplili and Zane Balmoja show off their VEX robotics trophies. Photo from Megan Andrada.

In February, 24 teams competed in the Hawaii Vex IQ State Championship tournament at Pearlridge Center.

Primarily geared toward younger students, the competition proved to be successful for two area schools.

Mililani Mauka Elementary’s robotics team won an award for its STEM research project, and Waialua Intermediate and High School received the Winner Excellence Award.

As a result of both schools’ recent success at the state level, they qualified to compete at the world tournament this month in Anaheim, Calif.

“It felt rewarding to win the award, because we worked really hard and tried our best to produce the best we could,” said Mililani Mauka fifth-grader Matthew Matsuo.

“We also felt really happy because all our hard work paid off, and we are going to go to Anaheim for the world championship,” added teammate Bowie Ching. “We knew that all we dreamed of was coming true!”

The school’s robotics program, which is comprise of two teams of fifth-graders, completed a number of tasks to achieve success at the state tournament. From conceiving the initial design for the robot to overseeing its construction – and encountering problem-solving scenarios in between – teammate

Jalen Ramos credited their ability to work well with one another.

“We had to use good teamwork to accomplish building our robot. It took everyone on the team to share and test our ideas, fix what was breaking and make our robot strong enough to pick up bucky balls.”

The Mauka team, meanwhile, will use the time leading up to the world tournament to customize a new robot after researching design ideas.

Most of all, the young engineers are looking forward to traveling to Anaheim, where they will take in the sights of robots from schools around the nation, meet other students and, of course, pay a visit to Disneyland.

“All we can hope for is to do our best and congratulate each other while having a wonderful time with one another,” said teammate Casey Morishige.

“I’m amazed with talent of our students,” added robotics coach Dave Morishige. “Children learn by doing, so I am constantly allowing them the opportunity to engage in the programming and constructing of the robots.

“I don’t provide them with the answers, but I do facilitate and guide their learning. I also challenge them to set high goals. In the process, the students develop team-work skills and become leaders.”

For the seasoned champions at Waialua Intermediate and High School, this isn’t the first time its Vex IQ team, made up of seventh-graders, has been recognized for its efforts.

The team also won the STEM award at the Aloha Vex IQ qualifying tournament.

Its winning project focused on the relationship among basketball, robotics and math.

Waialua ranks fifth in the World Skills Challenges and World Programming Skills, which tests teams on their skills in one-minute solo runs, during which they attempt to score as many points as possible.

According to lead coordinator and teacher Glenn Lee, a veteran of such competitions, his team ranked first in the world at one point.

“The team is working on improving its current performance in order to try to reclaim that title,” he said.

In preparation for the competition, the team will redesign its robot for improved performance, and also will continue to revisit and reflect on their STEM project.

The Vex IQ program is a new program in its inaugural year.

“We are very proud of how far it’s come,” said Friends of Hawaii Robotics president Lenny Klompus.

The Friends are preparing now to host the International VEX Summer Games competition, which is scheduled for July 10-13 at Hawaii Convention Center.