Project-based learning 'at its best'
by Emily Adams
TALLADEGA COUNTY — More than 1,200 students and volunteers representing 15 schools gathered for the Central Alabama BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Robotics competition Saturday.

Teams from each school were given six weeks to create a robot that can climb using a provided set of materials. Schools set up information booths, brought in bands and cheerleaders and performed timed tasks with their robots at the Talladega Superspeedway Speed Channel Dome.

About 40 judges spent two days evaluating teams in several categories, including project engineering, marketing, team exhibition and interviews, spirit and sportsmanship and robot performance.

“This program is project-based learning at its finest,” Lincoln High School robotics coach Shelby Reynolds said. “It’s a challenge you don’t get in a normal classroom setting. Not only are they learning math, science, marketing, technology and writing, but they’re also learning professional skills that a student needs to succeed in the workforce.”

Talladega High School senior Savannah Bond said the BEST program taught their group how to work as a unit.

“We learned how to think on our own and how to think on our feet,” Bond said. “We got input from everybody about every part of the process so we were able to take bits and pieces to form the best result. It’s been difficult at times, but we’re all better workers because of it,” Bond said.

Hope Academy students created the “Phoenix” robot, which uses a pulley system to rise up and down. Senior Rebecca Powell said the design took a lot of trial and error.

“One of the biggest factors was making sure it was as light as possible, but still sturdy enough to get the job done,” she said.

Powell said BEST has made her more interested in how everyday objects are designed.

“I’m definitely more curious than I was before,” she said.

State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice attended the competition and said it is the “epitome of what public education in Alabama could look like going forward if people are willing to think differently.

“To me, BEST robotics is a model, not just for engineering and math and science and technology, but for what education could look like,” Bice said. “It’s something I believe in strongly.”

Brian Gann, hub director for Central Alabama BEST, said the competition went “far and above” expectations.

“The quality of what students are doing continues to improve and these are skills you want in the workforce,” he said. “Schools are increasing their science, technology, engineering and math education and showing a commitment to critical thinking, problem solving and learning to work together. That’s what we want, and it’s only going to get better.”

This was the 20th year for the program nationwide, but the second year for Central Alabama BEST. The competition was provided at low cost to schools thanks to the following partners: McCartney Construction, Alabama Power, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Talladega Superspeedway, International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Talladega Rotary and the Alabama Office of Workforce Development.

Participating schools were: Winterboro High School, Talladega High Career Tech Center, Talladega County Central High School, Pell City High School, Oxford Middle School, Oxford High School, Munford High School, Lincoln High School, Hope Academy, Gadsden City High School, Episcopal Day School, Crossroad Christian School, Childersburg High School, Central High School of Clay County and B.B. Comer High School.

And the winners are:

2012 BEST Overall winners

1st – Episcopal Day School

2nd – Talladega High School Career Tech

3rd – Hope Academy

*Advance to South’s BEST at Auburn University in December.

Robotics Award winners

1st – Talladega High School Career Tech

2nd – Episcopal Day School

3rd – Crossroad Christian School

4th – Winterboro High School

© 2012