Future Transformers

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

WINDSOR – In the movie “Transformers” and the sequels that have followed based on the popular Hasbro toys, alien robots transform themselves into everyday machinery.

And if you think robots are just in the movies, think again.

Now a Winston-Salem-based consulting firm, ‘Must-Innov8, Inc.’ is bringing a Lego Robotic League to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students in Bertie County.

Bertie Middle School student Thomas Bazemore (left, foreground) and his mother, observe the Bertie High STEM school project of Rayshawn Evans (middle) and Kiani Strong (back to camera) that was entered in the high school robotics competition in Raleigh last year. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Bertie Middle School student Thomas Bazemore (left, foreground) and his mother, observe the Bertie High STEM school project of Rayshawn Evans (middle) and Kiani Strong (back to camera) that was entered in the high school robotics competition in Raleigh last year. Staff Photo by Gene Motley


The project actually began at the Bertie STEM High School a year ago; now it’s hoping for a new feeding ground for young scientific minds at the middle school level.

Over the past few years there has been an increased emphasis on offering a greater variety of STEM courses and on pushing students towards taking those courses. While educators admit STEM courses can provide great benefits for those students willing to take them, many students have shown little interest in these courses beyond what is needed to meet graduation requirements.

But the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) LEGO League, or FFL is hoping to change that by making STEM fun and exciting.

Thursday at Bertie Middle School in Windsor ‘Must-Innov8’ co-founders Sam McCormick and Joe Kronner were on hand to kick-off the project with a demonstration for educators, students, and parents.

After Darrell Walker, the new STEM Instructor at BMS, welcomed those attending, county schools Superintendent Elaine White and Principal William Peele, III explained what the after-school project involved.

“This exciting program, a fun, new team sport, will challenge students to design and build robots to perform complicated tasks in an intense race against the clock,” White explained.  “It will be an intensive six-week process, and then the fun begins as you compete against other teams that may have approached the design program different from your project. You’ll find out who has the best design and will have time to improve your design before the regional competition.”

Peele went on to explain the theme chosen for the middle schoolers is ‘World Class Learning’.

“The teams will be challenged to identify a real problem associated with learning and propose a solution,” Peele said.

McCormick then explained that it’s not just an exercise in fun, but also in learning.

“You won’t realize until after the regional completion just how much you’ve learned out of this,” he said. “You don’t have to be good at science, or math, or engineering to qualify.”

McCormick then showed the students a video presentation on the STEM high school project used in Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem.

“They took an idea, identified the problem, proposed a solution, and presented it to the judges,” he continued.

Three Bertie Middle School teams will take a six-week period to build their robots out of Lego building blocks and construction toys.  The team will consist of 10 students, one coach, and one mentor. They will then make a two-and-a-half minute presentation with their robots before the judges.

The judging for the BMS competition against Warren County Middle School will take place this winter at Roanoke-Chowan Community College, and RCCC president Dr. Michael Elam along with two of his tech school instructors: Keith Horne with Industrial Technologies and Victor Davidson with Welding, were available.   Dr. Elam said he hopes to recruit some of his RCCC tech-school students to serve as coaches and mentors to the middle schoolers.

“Mentors are out there bringing people in who are working in the field doing these kinds of things and that is critically important to this program,” said Kronner. “The engineering process is really all about failing, learning from your mistakes, and re-applying that knowledge back into the project; and that’s also the way the business world works.”

Once the competition is decided between Bertie and Warren counties there will be a middle school regional competition between BMS, Warren Middle, along with Hertford County Middle School, Conway Middle School in Northampton County, and Weldon Middle School at a site to be determined.

“There’s a lot of thought process that goes into this and it’s a lot of fun,” McCormick said. “You’ll have a chance to see challenges and opportunity and then pose a solution.”

Following the video, Kronner explained the students’ projects will be judged on robot design, research project, and core values.

A second video, narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, told  how the teens are not just building robots, but they’re building confidence and self-respect for a generation that looks up to sports heroes and entertainment stars.

Finally, two senior Bertie STEM High School students, Rayshawn Evans and Kiani Strong who participated in the 2014 high school challenge, spoke to the assembly.  Their design of a robot that could shoot a basketball competed in the regional in Raleigh’s Dorton Arena last spring.

“This (robotics) gave me leadership abilities,” said Evans. “It depends of how creative one’s mind is on how to take a problem and solve it.”

Evans also confessed that fund-raising was also a part of the project, but that’s was also part of the teamwork.

Strong said she appreciated meeting people from different countries and other environments.

The evening wrapped with McCormick explaining how one day young engineers will be “going pro” – not unlike athletes or entertainers – but in the job market.

“Not only is this fun,” he concluded, “but it leads to great careers. Learning to be an innovator and a problem solver is an itch that doesn’t go away; you’ll have it for life, and it’ll lead to some really great places.”

Anyone interested in becoming mentors, volunteers, or sponsors for one of the Robotics teams can call Bertie Middle School STEM School at 252-794-2143.