CLERMONT — Cypress Ridge Elementary School will host a robotics competition all day Saturday in the cafeteria of Clermont Middle School.
Ten middle and elementary schools are sending 30 teams to compete in the Osprey Challenge, named for the school's mascot. The competition will be Cypress Ridge's first time hosting.
The event is a VEX IQ competition, which is based on alliances rather than elimination, according to event organizer Virginia Schoenthaler.
“When the matches begin the computer randomly generates pairings,” she said. “Both teams earn the points that are scored together. Because of that, most teams are happy to assist a team that is having a problem because a better robot benefits both teams.”
To participate in VEX competitions, which run seasonally from September to March, the schools all have to be using the same basic kit that they purchase from VEX Robotics.
Schools can buy more kits from VEX in order to make different types of robots.
Schoenthaler, a STEM teacher at Cypress Ridge, said getting everyone to use VEX gear began as a grassroots movement more than five years ago.
It began with a demonstration at a School Board meeting by the Carver Middle School robotics club and schools began joining in from there.
Over time, the district and Educational Foundation of Lake County became more involved and started putting funds into school programs and supporting schools in pursuing grants, such as one Mount Dora Middle earned in September.
According to Schoenthaler, the appeal of VEX IQ is that it's a "multifaceted" program.
The popularity of robotics programs lies in their ability to capture the imagination, while also building foundations in real-world skills like engineering and programming.
"In addition to the building experience, students learn to code, work with a team, to communicate logically in writing and to do research and then present it," Schoenthaler said. "It's a program that hooks students and parents alike."
She said Cypress Ridge bought a kit in 2013 and has been at every state and world championship since then.
The club currently has around 30 students, which is enough to support six teams.
Since the program began catching on and seeing deeper investments, around 13 schools in Lake County have set up teams, according to Schoenthaler's last count.
For elementary schools, these are after-school programs, but for middle school students, they are often set up as electives alongside music or computer classes.
High schools with robotics programs, such as Lake Minneola, compete in a different set of competitions.
The VEX IQ teams in Lake County aren’t set up into a formal league, so any team can join any competition so long as they can get there. The VEX competition events page lists nine Lake County events this season.