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BEST Robotics Competition Announces Fall Workshops, New Partnership

The BEST ("Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology") Middle and High School Robotics Competition has released its schedule of workshops for fall 2010, which are aimed at welcoming more districts and schools worldwide into the 2011 competition. Organizations participate by setting up regional competition "hubs" that launch regionally targeted Web sites, raise funds, coordinate and host events, and generally encourage student interest in hands-on STEM education.

BEST encourages colleges and organizations to launch competition hubs in their respective regions (metro areas, segments of states, etc.), which in turn become resource centers for schools and student teams participating in regional robotics competitions, as well as hosts to these regional competitions. To qualify to launch a regional hub, the host institution must send a representative to one of the three-day regional workshops to learn all about the robotics competition, its mission to motivate student interest in hands-on STEM education, and the details of hub management and regional competition organizing. Workshop attendance is $90 per person, which includes all informational sessions and events, including the 2010 regional championships, as well as meals at the workshop. The workshops take place at the current regional championship sites as follows:

South's BEST: November 19-21, Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Texas BEST: November 19-21, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Frontier Trails BEST: December 10-12, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Fort Smith, AR

A detailed brochure (.pdf format), on launching a regional hub, including costs, requirements, and extensive workshop information, is available here.

BEST has also announced a multi-year partnership with Vex Robotics, manufacturer of the Vex Cortex Microcontroller, widely used in robotics programming, as well as the advanced, high-utility software that operates the controller.

"Forming a partnership with Vex Robotics and integrating their state-of-the-art Vexnet control system into our competition has had a tremendous impact on our program," said Dr. George Blanks, executive director of BEST Robotics. "We're experiencing more widespread interest in BEST than ever before in our 18-year history, and much of it is a direct result of our partnership with Vex, because of the quality of its products and its reputation among robotics enthusiasts."

In explaining the rapid growth in interest in the competition, Blanks also cited the recent push, both by the Obama administration and in districts and schools nationwide, for more and better STEM-related education, focused less on lectures and rote exercises and more on engaging investigative projects and challenges that emulate real-world work in science and technology and stimulate curiosity and excitement among K-12 students.

"Manufacturers, in particular, have long been bemoaning the fact that the applicant pool of highly qualified, highly skilled potential employees is getting smaller," he noted. "Likewise, STEM programs of study at community colleges and universities are largely suffering from flat-line enrollment. Both stakeholder groups are looking for fresh, innovative and high-tech ways to attract students, and are turning to BEST as one solution."

As for the appeal to students, Ted Mahler, an engineer for Texas Instruments and a co-founder of BEST, summed it up this way: "The fundamental principle of our program is that learning is optimized when students are given a hands-on, real world engineering challenge. BEST kids get their hands dirty and learn how to work with tools. So not only do they have to build a robot from 'scratch,' they have to learn how to program it as well."

Information on participating in the 2011 competition, including registration, rules, deadlines, required materials, and costs, is available at the BEST Competition page of the Web site.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.