An independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, DC


Why Robotics?

Through our program, we strive to encourage our students to take interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related topics, in an exciting, yet challenging atmosphere. Click here to see some of the interesting projects that we do and learn more about our student participants.

What is the program's mission?

Our mission is to inspire students to become scientific leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills. The Potomac School's Robotics program inspires innovation and fosters qualities such as self-confidence, responsibility, communication, and leadership. All members are encouraged to participate in all aspects of preparing a robot for competition, as robotics is a multidisciplinary field.

At Potomac, our mentors encourage professionalism, striving toward high-quality work and dedication and emphasizing the importance of respect for others. While `our teams compete against each other during tournaments, they must also be able to cooperate and work together. Teammates push, cheer, and encourage each other to achieve and exceed expectations. Students are able to learn and teach each other, allowing the teams to reach an even higher level of understanding.

Who can participate in Robotics?

Potomac students in grades 6 through 12 are invited to participate in the program.

Does Robotics count as an activity credit? What is the practice schedule?

In the Upper School, Robotics counts as an activity credit during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Robotics in the Intermediate and Middle Schools is a part of the ETC (Education that Continues) after school program. You can also join a Vex IQ club during the winter season in either 7th or 8th grade.

Our VEX Robotics members meet on Sundays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Teams are welcome to stay the whole time, but they can come and go as they see fit. During the week, the Robotics lab is typically open all day and after school. Students usually utilize this resource during their free blocks and lunch periods. Our VEX IQ members meet after school on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, and our First Lego League members meet after school on Mondays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30pm.

For VEX and VEX IQ, the season end is dependent on a team’s success. To compete at States, teams must qualify at a regional tournament by winning the Tournament Champion Award, the Excellence Award, or Design Award. They can also place by having a high enough skills score. For Vex IQ teams, the STEM award also qualifies. If a team qualifies at States, they will go to the World Championship, which takes place in April. For some VEX teams, it is possible to qualify for the U.S. Open during the regional competitions, which are about two weeks before the World Championship.

What's the difference between VEX and VEX IQ?

Students who are in the Intermediate School can compete in VEX Robotics, while VEX IQ is for Upper Schoolers. The VEX Robotics Competition, presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation (RECF), is the largest and fastest growing middle school and high school robotics program internationally, with more than 10,000 teams from 32 countries, playing in over 750 tournaments worldwide.

VEX Robotics provides students with exciting opportunities for learning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics. Students learn valuable skills by using VEX, especially in the area of technological problem solving. Beyond science and engineering principles, a VEX Robotics project encourages teamwork, leadership, and problem solving among students.

Potomac’s VEX IQ program focuses on the continued implementation of the engineering design process (EDP). Emphasis is placed on EDP, time management, and goal setting. The level of complexity, analyzing and interpreting data, and critical thinking is increased. Additionally, the engineering journal is a focus in the design process and problem solving. The daily entries continue to build habits of hand and mind. The program also aims to begin to identify/teach systematic thinking and problem-solving skills; focus on innovation and creativity; integrate science and math concepts into problem solving; and model/teach negotiation and teamwork skills.

How successful were Potomac's teams this year?

Very! In April, three Upper School teams competed as an alliance to win the U.S. Open Championship in Council Bluffs, IA. An additional team was a member of the finalist alliance. Furthermore, two IS robotics teams traveled to Louisville, KY, for the 2017 VEX Worlds, competing in the VEX IQ Middle School Division. The teams made it to this competition by excelling in a highly competitive Virginia qualifier.

What is Lego League?

Lego League is the robotics program for students in sixth grade; they may apply to participate at the beginning of the school year. Students are taught to model professionalism while acquiring the general skills needed to master robotics basics. This year, three teams of students were formed and will be competing at the regional level with the potential to go onto States.

Want to Learn More?

Visit our student-run robotics website.

Robotics Coaches

Ben Buursma
Middle School Teacher, First Lego League Mentor
(703) 749-2727

James Gillespie
Upper School Teacher, VEX and VEX IQ Mentor
(703) 873-6160

Mary Jarratt
Upper School Teacher, VEX IQ and First Lego League Mentor
(703) 720-4819

Greg Mueller
Intermediate School Teacher, VEX IQ Mentor
(703) 873-6117

Oscar McCullough
VEX Assistant

Matthew Rheinstein
VEX Assistant

Robotics News

This past Friday and Saturday, three of our robotics teams (12A, 12F, and 12G) competed at the "Night at the Museum" signature event. This was the toughest event that Potomac teams have competed at this year, and many people describe it as tougher than a division at the World Championship! Every team present had previously won an award at another tournament. The competition hailed from 25 different states – 19 of which included teams that were in the top three for their respective states – and the number-one skills-scoring team in the world also attended the event.

Read more about Three Teams Compete at "Night at the Museum"

On Saturday, Potomac hosted its annual robotics tournament. Despite being cut short because of the snow, it was a great success, thanks to the many volunteers who helped run it. Huge thanks also go to our extraordinary coaches, Mr. Gillespie, Ms. Jarratt, Dr. McClain, Mr. McCullough, Mr. Mueller, and Mr. Rheinstein.

Every Potomac robotics team competed in the tournament. Notably, Team 12E won the Excellence Award, which recognizes it as the overall best team in the competition. It also qualifies 12E for the Virginia State Championships and the US Open Championships. The Skills Champion Award was given to Team 12A, qualifying it for the Virginia State Championships too.

Read more about Robotics Tournament Hosted at Potomac
Robotics Performs Well in Fourth Virginia Tournament

The Potomac School Robotics team competed in its fourth Virginia tournament on Saturday. Seven Potomac teams (12A, 12E, 12G, 12J, 12N, 12P, and 12R) competed at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas against 43 other teams.

After a long day of qualification matches, 12E was ranked fifth and 12A was ranked ninth. 12E and 12G partnered together during the eliminations, but were knocked out in the semifinals. Team 12A and its alliance partner made it all the way to the finals and ended as tournament finalists.

Read more about Robotics Performs Well in Fourth Virginia Tournament