Early in December, staff from the Facebook Prineville Data Center invited two Crook County teachers and two Crook County Middle School students to travel to the Facebook Campus in Menlo Park, California, and observe a VEX IQ Robotics Competition.
The study of robotics incorporates all four pillars of STEM education, and VEX IQ is a snap-together robotics system that is designed to begin from the ground up. It can be utilized by any skill or grade level.The Menlo Park event was run by the Facebook employee VEX Robotics Club, whose goal is to mentor students participating in VEX robotics.
While there, they got to see VEX Robotics in action, as well as tour the massive Facebook campus at Menlo Park. They also had the opportunity to talk to other middle school students who were involved in the event.
Katrina Cross, second grade instructor at Barnes Butte Elementary, and Jim Crouch, shop/STEM instructor at Crook County Middle School, accompanied the students on the trip. Cross works with robotics with her students at the elementary level.
"To be asked as a chaperone for these girls to go to a robotics competition was an honor and a privilege," Cross said.
"There were some all-girls teams there, which was fun to see because I have a passion for potentially starting an all-girls team someday," she added.
Cross thought that it was interesting to see how the competitions were conducted as a sport, since Crook County hasn't established a team yet.
"Facebook has given us a lot of money and robots currently, so we are trying to get some competition teams for next year potentially; so getting to see that, and then the girls getting a fire for what it means if they could be involved in next year possibly too," she said.
William Marks, community development regional manager for Facebook West, was instrumental in arranging the trip to Melo Park. He said that Facebook has worked closely with the Crook County School District throughout the year as it has developed the robotics program.
"One of the things that excites us at Facebook is seeing the district develop a continuum for their robotics program," Marks said. "It's great to see that CCSD has programs that start with Lego robotics in elementary school, then progresses to more complex Lego Mindstorms kits in middle school, then even more advanced VEX kits at the high school level. We see young students who will have the chance to progress from beginner level robotics to advanced robotics that includes coding and engineering … all within the CCSD robotics program. This holistic approach is impressive and led to our thinking that middle school students would be ideal for this trip to Menlo Park."
Two seventh graders from Crouch's class were privileged to go to Melo Park and be part of the experience. Sami Ramos and Aspen Cross — Katrina Cross' daughter — found the entire trip exhilarating and an experience they will remember for a lifetime.
"I have always been interested in robotics," Aspen said.
When she grows up, she wants to do something in robotics.
"So it was really cool to get the opportunity to go see Facebook where they have so much of that," she said.
Her father works at Prineville Facebook Data Center, and she has been interested in the how robotics is used in the data center.
"My favorite part of the trip probably was seeing the Facebook headquarters, just because it's so huge."
She learned that the headquarters is much larger than the Prineville Data Center. The Menlo Park complex has more than 60 buildings.
"It's also really cool to get to see the competition because we are thinking about starting a competition next year maybe," Aspen added. "It's cool to see how we could do that and what we need to know to do that."
The Prineville Facebook Data Center has a Community Action Grants program, and robotics was a big part of Facebook's grants to the school district this past grant cycle.
"Seeing their enthusiasm and dedication has really allowed Facebook to be a strong community partner because there's so much great energy coming from the district — especially Superintendent Johnson, High School Principal Michelle Jonas, and robotics instructor Jason Mumm," Marks said.
"As for the event in Menlo Park, the team at Facebook — led by the Prineville Data Center Site Manager Andrew Gold — saw an opportunity for students and teachers in Prineville to see some advanced robotics work hosted at the Facebook headquarters," Marks continued. "We worked closely with Superintendent Johnson and middle school Principal Kurt Sloper to make sure we sent students and teachers who would appreciate the robotics events and bring back lessons to help build the program in Prineville."
In addition to the trip, Facebook funded a number of VEX robotics kits that will be delivered next semester — the same ones the students saw in Menlo Park.
Marks said that all other schools that attended the competition at Menlo Park were from the San Francisco area.
Ramos enjoyed meeting some of the competitors in the VEX IQ Robotics Competition and some of the staff at the campus at Menlo Center. She also liked the tour of the campus.
"Inside Facebook, they had their own village with sweet shops and they even had a hair salon there," Ramos said. "I was interested in going because I have always been interested in robots and engineering and coding. I have a little R2D2 robot at my house that I can code and program."
She added that she has grown up around similar machines because her father is a dentist.
Her favorite experiences on the trip were seeing the robotics competition, learning about how to build the Vex robots and seeing the robots that they have at Facebook at Menlo Park.
Beyond the robotics, Katrina Cross found that seeing Facebook headquarters and where students "potentially could work in the future when they have those kinds of skills" were the big highlights of the trip.
"We want Prineville to have the best educational resources and experiences, so exposing teachers and students to complex robotics challenges and events is a great way to instill that enthusiasm," Marks said. "The entire team at Facebook was thrilled to sponsor this trip, and we look forward to seeing the CCSD robotics program grow and flourish!"
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