Students fight technology 'battles'

Sometimes you can do everything right in a robotics competition, and the hay bale still doesn't get over the wall.

Cassie McCarthy, Robin Rice and Matthew Smith — all fifth graders at Crittenden Mount Zion Elementary School in Grant County — found that out Thursday at the Kentucky Student Technology Leadership Program's state championships at Rupp Arena.

The little wheeled robot that the three students had built and programmed worked well in the first round of robot competition, except when it came to placing a "hay bale" over a "wall." Somehow the plastic bale got stuck on top of the wall and refused to go over, costing Cassie, Robin and Matthew 50 points.

Fact is, competition in the Student Technology Leadership Program is tough.

More than 2,500 students, representing 300 schools from 93 Kentucky school districts, poured into Rupp Arena and Heritage Hall for the event Thursday. It featured technology competitions of all types for elementary, middle and high school teams, with state champions selected in each category.

The events ranged from robotics face-offs to computer flight simulations to the "bench" competitions, in which teams of youngsters had 30 minutes to figure out what's wrong with some deliberately sabotaged computers, fix them and get them working again.

Between events, students could try out various pieces of new technology; enjoy student-created digital art, music and videos; and immerse themselves in a "technology playground" on the floor of Rupp Arena.

Winners will go on to represent Kentucky in national competition in Washington, D.C., this summer.

David Couch, associate commissioner for education technology in the Kentucky Department of Education, says the event is intended to boost technology education. It also gives youngsters a chance to learn and test their skills against their peers from all around the state, he said.

"It's a chance for kids to learn that they can compete with other kids, no matter where they're from," Couch said. "That's something that breaks barriers and changes things for the rest of someone's life."