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Bossier schools shine in robotics comp

Central Park Elementary’s robotics team from Bossier City competes in the NICERC’s RARC Competition 2 this past weekend at the Bossier Civic Center. 

Approximately 200 teams from multiple school districts across the region converged on the Bossier Civic Center to compete in the 2014-2015 Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit (RARC) Competition 2.

RARC is a series of three science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) competitions for students in grades 3-12. The competitions build upon one another in regards to skill and difficulty.

G.B. Cazes, Vice President of the Cyber Innovation Center, said the event is a way to connect lessons taught in the classroom to a fun competitive environment. It’s basically a sporting event, but for academics.

He added that it’s an opportunity to introduce students to new job opportunities, ones they may not have known existed.

“There are 340,000 unfilled cyber security positions alone in our country. There’s a big demand for these types of careers and engineering as well. It’s about getting these kids excited about STEM and setting them on the right path in their academic career.”

A theme is chosen each year to bring all three competition levels together. Keeping with the 2014-2015 RARC theme of Exploring New Realms, teams were assigned a mission to program and autonomously navigate a robotic vessel through a simulated solar system.

Elementary and middle school teams used their robots to build a command center on a new planet, gather resources to sustain life on that planet, and employ their robots’ sensors to locate a neighboring planet.

The high school teams utilized their robots’ accessories to detect space debris hindering their path through the solar system on a quest to claim a planet. To earn the greatest number of points, high school teams were challenged with engineering a mechanism for their robot to autonomously plant a flag on the planet.

Teams prepared for the competition through weeks of honing their STEM, cyber, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork skills. They also completed a cryptology exercise to unveil hints on how to earn a higher number of points throughout the competition. Curtis Elementary School teacher Martha Glassey explains, “Our teams used internet resources to research cryptology and methods for deciphering the coded message in the competition guidelines. The students love the challenge of breaking codes.”

Cazes said the competition is a great way for students to connect what they are learning in the classroom into a fun, competitve atmosphere.

“It’s a great application of what they’re already learning and why they are learning math and science,” he said.

Throughout Competition 2, teams accumulated points based on their performance and were ranked accordingly. In the elementary division, Apollo Elementary Team 3 emerged as the first place winner followed by Curtis Elementary Team 1 in second place, and Apollo Elementary Team 9 in third place. In the middle school division, Cope Middle Team 7 earned first place while Cope Middle Team 10 and Haughton Middle Team 3 took second and third place, respectively. The first, second, and third place winners of the high school division were LSMSA Team 1, Parkway Team 1, and Sterlington Team 1, respectively.

Cazes credited the leadership in Bossier Schools for an almost clean sweep in awards.

“From a Bossier perspective, you see a real commitment from the teachers and administrators to engaging students in a new way of learning, which is very exciting,” he said. “We are proud to see the students excel at these STEM and cyber challenges. They are developing skills today that they will use throughout their academic careers and, one day, their professional careers.”

In addition to the scored challenges at the competition, Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center offered a bonus space exploration activity that allowed students to traverse an obstacle course with a remote controlled robot, thus providing an understanding of how the Mars Exploration Rover operates.

Cazes said he hopes to see this competition continue to grow each year.

“We’ve been growing roughly 20 to 30 percent a year in the number of teams,” Cazes said. “We will continue our plans to make it bigger and get more teams from different communities involved. We’re willing, able and want to share it with more communities.”

RARC is sponsored by NICERC, the City of Bossier City, Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center, Bossier Parish Schools, and Caddo Parish Schools.

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