How can virtual robotics competitions provide more seats at the table?

It would be an understatement to say that educational opportunities for students have been deeply impacted by the pandemic as these changes we’re now working through are undeniably uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and unforgettable.

Even though we’ve discovered roadblocks that impede students from successfully learning remotely, we’ve also discovered that new virtual models, when used intentionally, can reach more students than ever before. One such successful example is using virtual robotic competitions to teach kids to code.

(Please note that we understand the digital divide negatively impacts as many as 30 percent of K-12 students, according to a report by Common Sense Media. Those students do not have access to the tools necessary to engage in remote learning, which prevents their participation and representation in online learning and activities. This piece is working to unpack the power of virtual robotics competitions for underserved students that do have the tools to participate online.)

Utilizing robotics to teach STEM has been an appealing avenue to incorporate math, physics, engineering, and coding into enjoyable and engaging learning experiences. Students that have the opportunity to learn through robotics can strengthen their critical thinking skills as they work together to tackle challenges while problem solving as a team.

Now that educational organizations are pivoting to virtual settings, the accessibility for all students to gain STEM exposure will provide more seats at the global STEM table.

A Seat at the STEM Table

Macmillan Dictionary defines the phrase ‘A Seat at the Table’ as “a position as a member of a group that makes decisions.” It is important to have members of many different backgrounds, interests, and cultures at any decision-making table so that various viewpoints can be shared, considered, elevated, and normalized in the fabric of our diverse society.

Virtual robotic competitions can pave the way for students to have a seat at many decision-making tables. When students learn and practice coding skills necessary to participate in robotic competitions, they are given exposure to the STEM field, which sets them up to begin navigating the fields of manufacturing, healthcare applications, transportation, communication, mechanical engineering, and computer programming.

These competitions can appeal to different underserved groups that standard in-person robotic competitions were unable to reach. By hosting robotic competitions virtually, more students are included, regardless of the level of obstacles that may deter their ability to participate in a face-to-face setting.

The term “underserved” in this sense is referring to a wide range of people that are underrepresented in STEM professions. Individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations,

females, the homeless or displaced, LGBTQ+ populations, and certain racial and ethnic groups often lack role models or clear pathways into the STEM field. It is important that we work, as educators, to lift up all voices to impact the decision-making processes surrounding STEM.

Virtual robotic competitions will allow equity and access with every student and team experiencing the competition with the same tools in hand. Under-resourced communities can participate regardless of their financial ability to afford extensive fees, robot kits and extra parts, and cover possible traveling costs. With one set fee to participate as a team, all resources needed are already included in the online platform.

Students and teachers with disabilities who may have previously faced barriers in an in-person setting are now able to share their knowledge and strengthen their coding skills while working as a team from the safety of home.

Robotic competitions have always been lauded as a safe-haven for many different groups of students that may not feel included in other school-based activities or competitive events. Now at home, more students can feel socially and emotionally safe as they build relationships while working through challenges as a team.

Oftentimes family obligations, customs, or cultures can prevent students from being able to participate in extracurricular activities. Virtual robotic competitions take away many systemic roadblocks that have prevented inclusive participation in the past by providing students access to the activities and events right from their home computers.

Even those that may have been discouraged due to their inexperience with coding will still be engaged, especially if the competition offers a tiered approach to competitive tasks. By pivoting robotic competitions to a virtual setting, students will gain more access to these opportunities which in turn will impact long-term improved learning outcomes in the coding space. Access will also help to directly change the life trajectories of the most underserved and underrepresented.

We want all of our youth to be given every opportunity to gain knowledge that will shape their ability to make solution-based decisions. As we grow our leaders for tomorrow, investing in their STEM education will allow them to become impactful science and technology leaders that can make strong and innovative decisions for a brighter tomorrow. Virtual robotics competitions could be the spark that encourages youth to sit at the STEM table.

Opportunities to Explore

Many organizations are making the imperative shift to become more inclusive. CoderZ has just announced an upcoming spring CoderZ League Sprint Challenge that is designed with this in mind. The Sprint Challenge is a strong example of how STEM online learning environments are breaking down barriers to reach all students.

This cloud-based robotics tournament is designed to give participants the chance to connect with peers, improve their STEM skills, and have fun while learning how to code by using Blockly or Python, the coding language of choice is based on the team’s level of knowledge and experience. The League Sprint Challenge has a tiered approach for participating teams so that they can compete equitably, whether they are rookies or seasoned competitors.

Our most disenfranchised students and learning communities need opportunities to be elevated into STEM experiences. In an effort to support youth accessibility to coding experiences, CoderZ offers Title I schools a 40% discount off CoderZ League:

By teaching kids to code, we are engaging our future leaders in activities that stretch their learning, provide positive interaction and collaboration with peers, all while friendly competition drives the fun into accomplishment.

Robotic competitions need to be accessible, and CoderZ provides a flexible and scalable virtual solution so that every student can be reached. For more information, or to join the Sprint Challenge, please visit!

Samantha Reichard serves as Lead Real Time Teacher Coach for Center City 1 Learning Community in Charlotte, NC, serving as a mission-critical resource for 29 inner-city and Title I schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District. After graduating from the State University of New York at Fredonia, Samantha began her teaching career at East Union Middle School in Union County, NC as an eighth-grade English language arts teacher. After two years, she moved to Charlotte, NC and served as a sixth- and seventh-grade language arts teacher for five years before becoming a multi-classroom leader and real-time teacher coach. Following that, she worked on expanding the model of Multi-Classroom Leader and Real-Time Teacher Coaching (RTTC) for four years at Ranson IB Middle School.