15 years zdi | 2006: zdi robot competition for schoolchildren in North Rhine-Westphalia

The zdi robot competition has been around for 14 years. More than 1.000 children and young people from NRW take part every year. This makes it one of the largest nationwide Lego robot competitions in Europe and is particularly suitable for getting started with robotics. We explain why the zdi robot competition is so successful.

Experience computer science in a playful way

"It's very easy to build a robot," says Jan. Jan played with Lego for the first time in kindergarten. "Back then I built spaceships." Jan is now 16 years old and takes part in the robot club at his school. Jan shares his fascination with robotics with many other young people, regardless of whether they are boys or girls. Luckily! Because the IT industry and all industries that use IT are urgently looking for skilled workers.

But how can we get even more young people interested in computer science? There are now many educational robotics building sets, such as Lego Education, Calliope or Ozobot. Working with the kits allows children to experiment and try things out. It is particularly positive that the understanding of the programming of robots is learned in a playful way. Life is breathed into the scientific school subjects, which many students find too abstract and dry.

The joint initiative zdi also recognized the potential of robotics to promote young STEM students in NRW. In order to attract nationwide attention, the zdi team developed a competition. The aim was and is to create playful access to computer science and other MINT professions and courses. On May 15, 2006, the time had come. The starting signal for the first zdi robot competition in North Rhine-Westphalia had fallen.

zdi robot competition – a success story

40 teams from all over North Rhine-Westphalia competed in the first zdi robot competition. The response was so good that 80 teams took part the following year. And the competition kept evolving. Already after the second year of the competition, there were calls to design a category for all-girls teams. Since then, the teams have competed in two categories: robot game and robot performance. In the game, the teams have to complete specified tasks within a certain time. The performance teams create an appearance with their robot and present their work to a jury. In addition, two-thirds of these teams must be girls.
In recent years, the competition has developed into an established format with a high level of awareness and popularity among schools in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Facts and Figures

  • So far 14 competitions have been organized in North Rhine-Westphalia.
  • Approximately 11.000 students (1272 teams) took part in the competition. *
  • Most of the teams come from grammar schools, followed by junior high schools and comprehensive schools.
  • Since 2016, teams from elementary schools have also been admitted to the competition.
  • The average proportion of girls is 35 percent.

*2006 – 2017

And how did the zdi robot competition go down with Jan? Of course very good. And the competition has even piqued his interest in other zdi offerings.

Commitment of schools and zdi networks

Without the commitment of the coaches and zdi coordinators, the success of the zdi robot competition would be unthinkable. The coaches (these are mostly teachers, but also older students) organize the teams at the schools and support them in the preparation and competition phase. The competition has led to the formation of robot clubs in many schools. After initial financing problems, many schools managed to organize suitable rooms or the necessary equipment for the AGs with the help of sponsors or support associations. Now they use the robotics groups in a targeted manner to prepare the students for the competition. Margret Kathrein, teacher at the grammar school in Hückelhoven, remembers: “We have very good memories of the zdi robot competition and left a clear mark on our school. Our caretakers caught on to our enthusiasm and helped us fix a storage room. This resulted in a small technical room where I could regularly work in the afternoons with the students who were enthusiastic about robots.” 

The zdi coordinators also play an important role in running the competition. They organize premises, advertise the competition to schools, inform the local press and are the contact persons at the event location. Since 2018, some zdi networks have also been organizing their own local rounds of the robot competition. And even companies are getting involved. Your sponsorship money enables teams to print a competition shirt or to purchase small technical parts.

The organizational effort of a competition, about 100 students are present per competition day, is great. The work in advance, such as managing registrations, planning and setting up locations, etc., is also important to ensure a smooth process on the day of the competition. The fact that all the players communicate so well here makes a significant contribution to the success of the competition.

What is the zdi robot competition?

In teams students construct and program a Lego Mindstorms robot and take part in state-wide competitions in North Rhine-Westphalia. The teams have to prepare their robot for the competition within a few weeks. The teams consist of a maximum of 10 members aged up to 16 years. The aim of the competition is to give the participants a low-threshold and playful access to computer science  as well as other MINT professions and courses of study. The annually changing tasks are always related to the major social challenges.

The robot competition is well received by the students

Once the enthusiasm has been aroused, many students can no longer let go of robotics. There are many schools that compete each year with the same or new teams in the zdi robot competition. And some teams are so enthusiastic that they enter other robotics competitions, even internationally. The team "Schollibotics" from Lünen won the World Robot Olympiad (WRO) in Qatar Bronze. And a few years later, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the same team wins the silver medal. Another successful team is this Robot Club SisterBots at the Geschwister-Scholl-Gesamtschule Lünen. The girls won the silver medal at the WRO World Finals in Costa Rica.

The trophies are also well received by the teams

A first class student Markus Fleige. Together with his teammates from the Walburgisgymnasium in Menden, he was one of the winners of the first zdi robot competition. The Walburgis Gymnasium was represented in almost all competitions under the team name "Attractive & Inexpensive". And Markus Feige has been organizing the World Robot Olympiad (WRO), an international robot competition, as an independent entrepreneur since 2012. In addition, his association Technik enthusiastic eV has been advising the zdi team on the design of the competition for a number of years.

Jan also remains loyal to zdi and uses the zdi offer in his region. "I was at the university in Dortmund for a week and programmed a PC game," he says. “I really enjoy the zdi courses. I do this in my free time and I don't get any grades. It's good. It's also nice to work on projects like this with friends.” Later, Jan might want to study mathematics.

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