BEST is an acronym for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology, the goal of the program, which was established by a couple of engineers from Texas Instruments. They learned about a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had students building robots, and recognized the potential for putting a real-world competitive challenge in the hands of high school and junior high school students.
Each year a different challenge is created, with courses for head-to-head competition. Parts kits are supplied to competing schools, in most cases paid for by volunteers and sponsoring business and non-profit groups. Students are given the kits, the goals, and six weeks to prepare for competition.
The Central Alabama regional hub has 20 schools participating this year. From Talladega and St. Clair County, all of the Talladega County system high schools, Talladega High School, Hope Academy, Duran Junior High and Crossroads Christian in Moody are taking part.
Today is “Mall Day,” with the teams converging at Quintard Mall this afternoon, 1-5, to give their robots a trial run. With just a week before regional competition, it gives teams a chance to see each other’s designs, and an opportunity to make adjustments before “Game Day.” It also gives the public a chance to see the robots in action. That will be at the Speed Channel Dome next to Talladega Superspeedway Saturday, Nov. 2, from 9-5. It’s free and open to the public, and a great chance to see technical schools presented in a game show format.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice has called the program a model for education in the state, a project-oriented approach to learning that takes subject matter out of isolation and puts it into a problem-solving situation. That helps students become more critical thinkers, and helps drive home the importance of why learning technical and scientific lessons is important.
With a report released just last week showing Alabama students scoring below the international average on science and math exams, BEST Robotics is the kind of program that can help make a big difference in the lives and careers of program participants and school programs.
It’s been a highly successful program in our part of the state thanks to coordinator Brian Gann, teachers, sponsors and volunteers who help make it happen.