McDowell’s youngest engineers will go head to head during the first ever RoboMcDowell competition on Saturday at East McDowell Middle School.

The event will feature Cyberkids Robotics teams from each elementary school and middle school for the chance to earn points, win awards and move on to Robofest to compete against schools from across the state.

Cyberkids Robotics coach, trainer and marketing coordinator Rebecca Smith and coach Kayla Sutton have worked with the McDowell teams all year preparing for this competition. Sutton is an engineering student at N.C. State.

“Since last summer students in McDowell County have learned how to create a robot, engineer and program a robot, complete missions and strategize the best attachments to complete missions in 2 ½ minutes,” said Smith. “In addition to that they have been working on teamwork skills, and learning how to work as a team in order to accomplish those tasks.”

On Saturday, each team will go into a room in front of a panel of judges with no help from their teachers, parents or coaches. They will receive a mission card that will be a team exercise in which they will have five minutes to complete.

“They will be evaluated in how they talk to each other, if they value each other’s opinions and efficiency at completing the tasks,” said Smith.

The students will also present a project to the judges they have been working on all year on an animal of their choosing, since the theme of the robot missions has been animal-related.

“They each selected an animal. They had to research issues with the animal and human interactions and come up with a solution, and that’s what they will present,” said Smith. “They will get a score on how well they presented, how knowledgeable they are and did the judges understand the presentation.”

After the teams’ presentations and missions, the public is invited to the Robot Run starting at noon where all of the teams will display their bots and skills.

“They will have one 10-minute practice run and then run three 2 ½-minute timed runs. These students have worked all year on integrating STEM skills such as force, speed, friction and motion,” Smith said. “A lot of what they deal with has to be structured. I’s so much more than pushing a button. This is to show off their abilities of critical thinking.”

The top two teams after Saturday’s competition will move on to Robofest the following weekend in Cornelius where they will compete against top teams in North Carolina.

“I’m really proud to be a part of it because I grew up in McDowell. I feel very fortunate to work with the students in McDowell and to promote STEM education and prepare them for life beyond the classroom,” said Smith.

She said RoboMcDowell will be an annual event and grant money has already been secured for next year which goes to support the teams from each elementary school, three at West McDowell Middle School and two at Foothills Community School.

“I would love to see the program in McDowell expand to the high school doing advance robotics and a drone program,” said Smith. “The kids have worked really hard. Every session we run over because the kids are so engaged. They are really excited and eager to get started.”

For more information on the program, visit www.cyberkidsrobotics.com or Cyberkids Robotics on Facebook.

 Want to go?

What: RoboMcDowell

When: 8:15 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Robot Run starts at noon

Where: East McDowell Middle School

Who: Eastfield Animatronics, FCS Pork Choppers, Glenwood Rock-it Rovers, Marion R.A.M.S., North Cove MegaStars, Old Fort Mega Llamas, P.G. Code Talkers, West Marion LegoTrons, West McDowell Blockheads, West McDowell Ice Tigers, Nebo Cyber Bears.

 About Cyberkids Robotics (From cyberkidsrobotics.com)

CyberKids Robotics is a non-profit education company based in Lenoir. It was founded in 1998 by Bill and Kathy Kent. CyberKids Robotics is dedicated to improving the science, technology, engineering and math education of students in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. They help schools obtain grant funds, support professional development and have a robotics curriculum that grows with students. They also manage a district-wide competition for each school district to showcase students’ presentations, team work skills and robotic skills.