Three local middle school students have parlayed their love of math and science into a prestigious win on a global scale.
Known as Team Virus 3547H or, more familiarly, The Potstickers, the trio walked away from the VEX IQ World Championship held in April with the prestigious STEM Research Project Award. The team, consisting of Grace Meyer, 14, Ty Nofziger, 13, and Lily Nofziger, 14, was one of only five overall winners in the world of the judged competition in Louisville, Ky.
It was a stellar win for the teens, who ranked high enough in a half-dozen tournaments through the school year to qualify for the VEX state and world competitions. Their project: an original card game that teaches grades 3-5 students the Fibonacci Sequence, a series of numbers in which the next number is found by the adding together the two previous numbers. The numbered pattern helps to develop math skills.
Meyer and the Nofzigers joined forces this school year after Meyer’s family moved from to Wauseon from Monroe, Mich. A member of VEX IQ, a Texas-based robotics platform connected with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning for grades 4-8, Meyer participated in VEX activities through Virus Team 3547. Members of that Monroe robotics organization, with teams representing students from elementary school to college, meet for activities at Monroe County Community College.
Due to her move, VEX granted Grace the opportunity to form a team for the 2018-19 school year independent of a Monroe affiliation. Grace, who is home-schooled by her mother, Becky, enlisted her friends, Pettisville school students Ty and Lily, for the extra-curricular activity. All were adopted from China.
“They were interested in it but had not done anything (like this) previously, except in a summer camp. So this was new to them,” Grace said. “They soaked it up like sponges.”
The Potstickers met twice a week and planned which of Michigan’s available 25 VEX robotic tournaments they planned to attend. In order to compete, they constructed their robot, Chopsticks, last fall. It was the first of three iterations built with robotics knowledge Grace gained as a four-year VEX participant, and programmed by Lily to remove and stack pegs used during contests.
“We are constantly always improving our robot and testing it,” Grace said. “Since I’m a home-schooler, I spend a lot of time tinkering around and doing research as part of my school.”
Chopsticks won the team seven awards and enough ranking in six competitions to qualify for the VEX state tournament Feb. 17 in Charlotte, Mich. They ranked 15th out of 32 participating teams, and won a separate STEM competition for their Fibonacci Sequence card game.
The Potstickers moved on to the world championship in Louisville, where they vied among 400 teams in their middle school division. The Potstickers not only ranked among the top 50, they also won that level’s STEM Research Project Award for the card game after submitting a video they filmed and edited themselves.
Jeff Demaray, president and project manager of Monroe’s community-based Virus Robotics, said The Potstickers “are very motivated, highly driven, and highly creative.” He said their STEM award is very prestigious, since only five percent of the nation’s 12,000 VEX IQ teams make it to the world championship.
“This is a huge award for them,” Demaray said.
Grace said her participation in VEX IQ has taught her the iteration and engineering processes and gained her many friends. She said she has always enjoyed math, “and when we learned about robotics it seemed to be a good fit. I’m at heart a competitive person. I don’t enjoy being bored. Robotics make me feel productive.”
She plans to continue her involvement with VEX through high school but hasn’t yet decided on a career. “As of now, (robotics) sounds fun, but I don’t know what my older self will say,” she said.
Demaray said none of the The Potstickers should be concerned where they’re headed. “They are on the track for great life success,” he said.