By Martie Thompson

Fifth grader Morgan Gavazzi and her younger sister, second grader Lily, were recently notified that their efforts with Wonder Workshop robots Dot and Dash earned them a fifth place finish in the world at the 2016-2017 Wonder League Robotics Competition for the nine – 12 year old age bracket. Coached by Ocean Palms Elementary’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) teacher, Lauren Wade, “The Sis Squad” as the Gavazzi sisters are known, spent Tuesday afternoons after school since September preparing for the competition.

According to Wonder Workshop, more than 5,300 teams from 52 countries participated in the competition, up 365 percent from the year prior. Teams in the U.S. hailed from nearly every state. The competition was held from October through December, with each team required to submit a series of videos of their performances of various prescribed challenges for the robots. Wade said they were notified in January that one of the four teams from Ocean Palms was a finalist in the competition, meaning that they had placed in the top 30 globally. The team then had to perform a final challenge including keeping an online science journal.

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“In late March, Wonder Workshop announced the final results over Facebook Live, but since we can’t watch Facebook at school, we waited until the video was uploaded to YouTube shortly afterwards. We watched as a class and had a celebration as we learned that The Sis Squad finished first in the state of Florida and fifth in the world,” said Wade.

The team won a set of the Dot and Dash robots, developed by Wonder Workshop to encourage elementary coding and robotics clubs while inspiring an early love of computer science. Wade said the robots utilize a proprietary block-based coding running on a Javascript base. She said she first learned of the robots from a teacher event at Palencia Elementary School and knew they would be a perfect way to introduce coding to her STEAM students. She received the first set of Dot and Dash robots about a year ago via a grant when she was a fourth grade teacher and since then has received funds from the PTO and other fundraisers and grants that have allowed her to now have six of the Dash robots and two Dots for her STEAM resource students.

Wade said she is constantly looking for the next cool robot or way to teach computer science to her students. She plans to continue with the after school robotics club next year as well as hosting the annual Family Code Night at Ocean Palms in her efforts to keep students and families engaged and spark creativity.

And as for Morgan and Lily? Wade said that Morgan will continue with robotics when she attends Landrum Middle School next year by participating with that school’s Botball team. Lily plans to continue coding Dot and Dash at Ocean Palms.

Photo courtesy Kristin Gavazzi

Ocean Palms Elementary School students Morgan and Lily Gavazzi with STEAM teacher and coach, Lauren Wade.

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