Robotic cars moved across maps of Mars and completed obstacle courses at a unique competition — all guided by coding from high school and middle school students.

More than 60 students used coding and robotics Wednesday at McAlester Public Schools’ Lucy Smith Center in the district first TI-Innovator™ Rover Challenge.

Tim Collier, a math teacher at McAlester High School, said he believes the technology helps promote a learning environment and knows area students have bright futures.

“We’ve discovered that our teachers and sometimes we ourselves by in to this ‘we’re from southeast Oklahoma, the poor part of the world’ (mentality), — but that's not true,” Collier said. “Our kids are just as valid as any kids that are born anywhere.”

MPS is one of the first districts in the world to use the TI-Innovator™ Rover that offers students hands-on experience with coding and robotics.

Twenty-four teams from four school districts — McAlester, Rattan, Wilburton and Wister — crunched numbers in the auditorium at the Lucy Smith Center and completed challenges in the volleyball gym across the hall during the event.

Collier said the technology is an extension of the classroom

The Rover allows students to write programs on graphing calculators that guide the mapping device to collaborate on projects. Rover connects to the TI-Innovator Hub and either a TI-84 Plus CE or TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculator for a basic program that helps students without coding or robotics experience learn.

Students rushed from the gym to the auditorium to correct some answers, but teachers said that was part of the learning process.

“It's okay to fail,” said MHS teacher Delilah Rodriguez.

“If students get something wrong, they're able to go back into the coding and debugging room and try it again,” she said of the competition. “There wasn't like a, there are some (challenges) that say automatic fail but that just meant you have to go back and try and pick out your code before you try it again.”

“That's how we learn,” Collier said. “If you're wrong, I know you're trying.”

Brett Lalli, a math teacher at McAlester High School, said the math department created the challenges for the competition.

Collier and Lalli recently attended a conference in Baltimore regarding education technology and how more than 200 schools across 33 countries were using implementing technology in the classroom.

“It’s just a bunch of teachers getting together and talking about what we're doing in our classrooms and sharing ideas,” Lalli said. “I’m just really excited to get to go see what else is going on and get a fresh perspective on the rover and the innovator and just everything that's happening.”

Lalli said he knows students learn from the competition and courses.

“Obviously the goal is to get them into this career field, but just the lifelong skills is huge for me and that's always been my goal,” he said.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com