Elementary Underdogs Advance to State

Elementary Underdogs Advance to State
Posted on 01/16/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Elementary Underdogs Advance to StateHarlow Hackers Pictured Left to Right: Cristian Rios, Zaidé Luján, Janeth Ordoñez, Maymonah Mahamdeh

January 11, 2019, Richardson, Texas: This past Friday, about 100 students from several area districts came together to put their STEM, problem-solving, and robotics abilities to the test at the TCEA, Texas Computer Education Association, Area 10 Robotics Contest. Sixteen teams of fourth to eighth graders competed in the Arena contest in which they had to solve a prescribed challenge with specific parameters. The first and second place teams in the area competition will advance to the state finals on April 27, 2019, near Austin, Texas.

It was a big day of firsts for Anna ISD. Not only was it the first time that an Anna elementary team advanced to a state robotics contest, but it was the first time an Anna elementary team has entered a robotics competition. The teams participated in a practice round to begin the contest and work out any possible bugs with their robots. Then they moved on to the official rounds of the contest, where they were judged and given a score based on tasks their robots completed or did not complete. At the end of the three rounds, the scores were averaged, and the first-place award went to Celina ISD. However, second place was not as clear cut-- there was a three-way tie. The tiebreaker rule states that the highest-scoring round determines a winner, yet, there were still two teams that scored the exact same score in all three rounds. For the first time in a TCEA Area 10 Robotics contest, the two remaining second-place teams had a head-to-head 45-second match in which the highest scoring team would be awarded the winner. After a nail-biting tiebreaking match, the Harlow Hackers came out on top and were bursting with emotion when they were announced as the winner.

“I am so proud of these kids. But none of this would be possible without the Anna Education Foundation Grant. If it were not for that grant, we would not be here today,” said Harlow Elementary Teacher Joshua Strickland.

Last May, Strickland was awarded an Anna Education Foundation Grant, which allowed him to purchase the supplies needed to not only start an elementary robotics club but also enter TCEA’s contest.

Strickland is motivated by his passion for his students to experience programming, building, the engineering design process and problem-solving in a way they’ve never done.

“I’ve known for a while that other schools and districts around Texas have these robotics teams, and as an educator passionate about STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) I’m always asking myself what can we do to put Anna ISD on the map as a district that implements STEM education in new and exciting ways. I wanted Anna ISD to finally be a district where not only secondary students get to experience robotics, but elementary students too- they are so capable. I believe it is crucial we introduce students to all things STEM and engineering at a young age so they can be better prepared to pursue these career choices when they are older,” said Strickland.

Strickland initially created the after-school robotics club, open to any Harlow Elementary fourth or fifth grader, in September 2018. His robotics club met weekly and explored the world of robotics through hands-on challenges and activities. One of the challenges he wanted students to face was the “On the Factory Floor,” a robotics contest put on each year by TCEA.

“The TCEA competition was the choice for our team since we have such a strong support system with Mindi Vandagriff as the TCEA Area 10 Director. I was blessed with an opportunity Anna ISD provided me with last school year to attend the TCEA conference, and learning more about LEGO Mindstorms Robotics was part of that trip. I was very inspired and knew ever since February 2018 that I wanted to bring robotics to Anna ISD. The TCEA competition this year is very challenging yet still one that provides an easy entry point for elementary students to understand and problem-solve their way into,” said Strickland.

Students in the Harlow Robotics Club had the opportunity to try out for two elite competition teams, The STEAM TEAM and the Harlow Hackers. Eleven students made the two teams: Josiah Harkless, Jude French, Andrew Walls, Mark Miller, Dillon Bone, Cristian Rios, Zaidé Luján, Janeth Ordoñez, Maymonah Mahamdeh, Tyson Carpenter and Erenida Luján.

“It was like a Cinderella moment when these students pulled out the win,” said Mindi Vandagriff, TCEA Area 10 Director and Anna ISD Coordinator of Professional and Digital Learning. “Of course, I have a special connection to Anna ISD students, but when I am in the role of TCEA Area 10 Director, I have to be unbiased. However, when the young Harlow Hackers won the head-to-head match against one of Celina ISD’s 8th-grade robotics teams, I couldn’t hide my emotion. And neither could they. It was heart-warming to watch.”

Since Vandagriff works for Anna ISD, she wanted to involve more than just elementary students in the competition. She reached out to Emily Burk, Anna High School Library and Media Specialist, to recruit volunteers to help run the competition. With Burk’s help, she was able to involve 16 AHS students in volunteering and judging the contest.

Junior Derek Kirschner was one of the volunteer judges from Anna High School.

“It was fun and really cool to interact with our elementary school students. I liked being able to encourage all the students to strive to be the best they can be,” said Kirschner. “Robotics is great to have for teamwork and to get people to try to invent things and to use their brains to think about things in a new way.”

Anna ISD congratulates both teams that participated in the competition for an incredible job. The students and Mr. Strickland represented our district proudly.

Robotics is an incredible avenue for students to work on hands-on, collaborative STEM projects. In both the Area and State contests, students have the opportunity to design, collaborate, plan, redesign, construct, create, assemble, invent, reinvent, write, present, and compete to see who has developed a winning robot. Learn more about TCEA’s area robotics contests:

TCEA ( is a nonprofit, member-based organization that has supported the use of technology in education for the last 37 years. Our primary focus is on integrating technology into the PreK-16 environment and providing our members with cutting-edge knowledge and resources through conferences, workshops, online and print publications, and collaborations with higher education and business.

TCEA Robotics Contest
Harlow Elementary Robotics Teams: Harlow Hackers and STEAM Team with Mr. Joshua Strickland, Anna High School Student Volunteers, Mindi Vandagriff, and Emily Burk. 
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