The middle school children huddle around the mission table and discuss the plans at hand — how exactly will their robotic creations work together to help them achieve regional, and maybe even national, recognition?
For now, the Tallmadge Robotics Team, called “Think Outside the Bots,” will show off some of their creations at the upcoming Akron Mini Maker Faire, Oct. 18, at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. The Maker Faire, in its second year, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mainly comprising students from Tallmadge Middle School, the robotics program imparts science and math, but also good conduct. A word often used among these young scientists is “coopertition,” which reveals a blend of competitiveness mixed with friendliness and good sportsmanship.
“I love being in a team where everybody has the same likes. We’re all kind of nerdy and we like to game and have fun,” said team member Jorrdin Jones.
“I love robotics because it’s a team-building activity,” said student Robert Wilson.
Each member of this team has specific roles, from video game development, to “core values” and attachments for the mission’s robots. The team competes using regulations set forth in the First Lego League (FLL), which introduces young people to science and technology.
One group is developing a video game, a project to help players learn how to defend themselves against bullying.
The aforementioned Core Values are a cornerstone of the program, with statements such as, “We are a team, we learn together, we honor the spirit of friendly competition,” and, “What we discover is more important than what we win.”
The League has been in place since 1998, and the popular brick manufacturer issues challenges every year for these young contenders.
This year’s mission is “World Class,” a play on the phrase meaning classy while also alluding to the world’s classroom, of which these robotics enthusiasts can use to connect with other like-minded students around the globe thanks to this competition.
The team has members who have known one another since elementary school. They discuss their future aspirations of becoming engineers, scientists and computer programmers, as if there is no question about this, only certainty.
“I want to be a robotics engineer when I grow up, and I think this will be a good thing to put on my college application, and will give me a good jumpstart on learning programming and building robots,” said team member Parker Braccio.
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up, so I want to get some practice in,” echoed Jackson McMinn.
Coaches Don and Tiffanie Ballard and Paul Soukup have worked with local robotics teams for four years. “I believe in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I think it’s great for kids. It’s hands on; it teaches them how to problem-solve,” said Tiffanie Ballard.
Despite the perceived seriousness of using science and math for competition, the FLL endorses having fun above all else, she added.
After speaking with team members, one other assumption is safe: almost all of the students love the game “Minecraft,” an indie construction-based multi-player that’s become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon among young people. Its open system allows virtually unlimited gameplay among its players, and the game is an apt accompaniment to the ingenuity and creativity of these top young minds.
For more information about the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Mini Maker Faire, visit makerfaireakron.akronlibrary.org. The Main Library is located at 60 S. High St. in downtown Akron.