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Tech-savvy sixth-graders take first place in IT competition

CaledoniaThe passions of a tech-savvy team of sixth-graders from Kraft Meadows Middle School include computer programming, dancing and eating chicken nuggets.

Caelyn Crocker, Addison Dana, Maggie Koopman, Nola Pearson and Sophia Teelander formed The Space Nuggets to compete in Girls Solve IT 2020. Months of hard work and perseverance paid off this November when their team was awarded first place out of 49 teams statewide.

“We thought The Space Nuggets would be a fun name based on this year’s theme of ‘space,’” Caelyn explained during a Zoom call with the whole team. Added Sophia: “We are also always eating chicken nuggets.” 

The Space Nuggets navigate their robot around the space map (courtesy)

Sponsored by the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT), Girls Solve IT requires teams of girls in grades four to eight to complete a series of three quests, or tasks, challenging them in the areas of programming, creativity and problem solving. 

After completing their first task in February, the pandemic postponed the deadline for the team’s second task until the fall. Despite the delay, The Space Nuggets remained hard at work through quarantine, sickness and schedule conflicts. 

When school started in the fall, the students resumed brainstorming and practicing their presentations over Zoom, and transformed one of their garages into a film studio to meet in while wearing masks. 

“We had a few blackouts when the space heaters blew the circuit,” Addison said, followed by laughter from the whole team. 

Maggie also described how they used a green sheet on a dry erase board to create a greenscreen to film their quest videos. 

Stephanie Pearson, the team’s coach and Caledonia High School student services assistant, helped the students navigate virtual meetings and stay on track to complete their projects. 

“Ms. Pearson kept us together,” Caeyln said. 

Pearson previously coached the Computer Cookies, the Girls Solve IT first-place team from Kraft Meadows in 2018. 

“As their coach, I am very proud of the work they put in to rise above after Covid-19 threw us for a loop,” Pearson said. “The girls worked so well together and are always ready and willing to try new things and get creative.”  

Each team in the competition received their materials in the mail to complete their tasks. Pearson said teams were awarded points for accurately programming their “wonder robot” to navigate around a large map laid on the ground. They could also get bonus points for solving their problems in creative ways and sharing their progress on social media.

Nola Pearson, Sophia Teelander, Maggie Koopman, Caelyn Crocker and Addison Dana program their robot for the Girls Solve IT competition (courtesy)

“The girls went above and beyond for their quests,” Pearson said. “They wrote scripts, crafted props and costumes, choreographed dances and skits and edited all their own videos.”

Nola served as project leader and got the other girls involved in her love for coding. Together, the team needed to program the speed and directions to make their robot move.

“A few components got tricky, but we worked through them together,” Maggie said. 

Team members said they really enjoyed creating skits and using cues from the project prompts to inspire ideas for their videos.

“We got to have a lot of fun coding, filming and doing a lot of dancing,” Nola said.

Added Maggie: “We also got to eat a lot of chicken nuggets while hanging out together.”

A few weeks after submitting their final task, The Space Nuggets found out they won.

“There was a lot of screaming and happy dancing in our house,” Pearson said. “It’s pretty cool to have two teams from Caledonia win first place, and very exciting that they’re both from Kraft Meadows.” 

Students said the competition prompted them to learn more about writing code. 

“I improved my writing skills while working on the scripts for our videos,” Sophia said. 

“I learned more about editing and being more creative with videos,” Addison added. “I would definitely do this competition with my team again next year.” 

To watch all three of the Space Nuggets’ quest videos, visit their YouTube Playlist.

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia and Kenowa Hills and is a roving reporter for Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio or email Alexis.

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