TCEA 2020-2021 Virtual Robotics Contest

TCEA 2020-2021 Robotics Contest

Due to the circumstances affecting education this year, TCEA is taking our robotics contests to a new level. Get ready to open the boundaries when it comes to TCEA robotics for the 2020-2021 school year. Teachers and sponsors, prepare to promote STEAM thinking as your students design and develop a whirligig.

This competition lets students become creators, videographers, and promoters, even in a remote learning environment. Students are encouraged to use the Engineering Design Process as they work through this years’ experience.

Spark Their Creativity-Outside of the Box Thinking

We want to leave the contest as open ended as possible with a set of minimum parameters as we believe creative ideas come from fewer instructions rather than more. Creativity would be involved in not just designing the robot and its performance, but also in the video showcasing the robot.

Contest Dates and Registration Information

Revised Contest Registration: January 25 – February 28, 2021
Revised Contest Video Entry: March 1 – March 7, 2021
Revised Public Voting: March 1 – March 12, 2021
Registration Fee: $20 per team

Contest Prompt

whirligig is an object that spins or whirls. Variations on this simple technology can also be called pinwheel, buzzer, comic weather-vane, gee-haw (or gee-haw whammy diddle), spinner, whirlyjig, whirlybird, or just a plain whirly. In fact, references to whirligigs can be found in Shakespeare, and even earlier records.

Whirligigs are most commonly powered by the wind, but they can be hand powered, friction powered, or powered by a motor. This whimsical mechanism can be found as garden ornaments, kinetic art, and designed to transmit sound and vibration into the ground to repel burrowing rodents in yards and gardens.

Button Whirligigs

Button whirligigs are the oldest known whirligigs. These are sometimes called button spinners or buzzers. A button whirligig is made up of a piece of clay or bone and a strip of hide. Native American cultures had their own version of this toy in 500 BCE. During the Great Depression, many children from the southern Appalachian and the Ozarks played with this toy.

String Whirligigs

For a string-powered whirligig to operate, the user wraps a string around a rod and then pulls the string. This causes the whirligig’s motion. The bamboo-copter or dragon butterfly, was invented in China in 400 BC, and many variations can be seen around the world throughout history.

Friction Whirligigs

Friction whirligigs, also called gee-haws. This whirligig depends on a person rubbing a stick against a notched piece of wood, called a shaft. A propeller on the end of the shaft turns because of the vibration generated along the shaft.  


Wind-driven Whirligigs

A wind-driven whirligig transfers the energy of the wind into a simple release of kinetic energy through rotation or a more complicated transfer of rotational energy. The wind pushes on the whirligig turning one part of it and it then uses inertia to keep moving. The most common example of this type of whirligig is the pinwheel. This is also the technology behind windmills.

A New Kind of Whirligig: Yours

This year, TCEA is upping the game when it comes to these wonderful mechanisms. We announce the fifth category – Robotic Whirli-bots 

Are you ready to design, build, and code your own unique whirling mechanism powered by a robot? It is a perfect time to get your creativity on and throw hesitation to the wind. Will you go simple or complex? One controller or many?  The choices are “up in the air”!

Once you have your whirli-bot in working order, the next step is record all the action. Teams will need to upload their video to the TCEA virtual platform. Finally, you must promote your video and get people to vote.

We hope your ideas are a whirrin’, your pencils are a plannin’, and your brains are building and coding. We can’t wait to see what you create.

Engineering Design Process

Student teams entering the competition will be encouraged to use the Engineering Design Process to create their designs. This process is a series of steps that engineers undertake to reach solutions. These steps may be repeated multiple times until the problem is solved:

  • Question
  • Brainstorm
  • Plan
  • Build, Test & Evaluate, Modify (repeat)
  • Share

Check out this video to get a more indepth explanation as well as something you can print to share with your students as a reminder!

The process is just as important as the outcome. Although it will not be part of the submission, students will be encouraged to carefully log their Engineering Design Process in a logbook, in the format of their choosing.



No game board (wooden frame), Race Against Time mat, or game pieces are required for this contest. Teams only need one robotics kit, a computer with programming software, and their imagination.


Teams can collaborate virtually or in person for all aspects of the design, programming, and recording processes.


Submit your video by the deadline and spread the word to get votes!


Let Your Imagination Soar!

Contest Parameters and Rules


Student teams will need to provide the following deliverables to submit a complete contest entry:

  • The team’s video in a URL format. The video should showcase the whirligig action, but can also include other components.
  • The video should not exceed 1 minute, 30 seconds (90 seconds) in length.
  • Parents or Guardians must sign the Student Release Form

In entering the contest, all teams and sponsors must adhere to the following rules:

  • Teams can use any brand of robotics kit or combination of robotics kits (LEGO, VEX, Dash, etc.).
  • Teams can use any number or type of sensors.
  • Teams can use any number or type of motors.
  • Teams are not allowed to melt, deform, cut, bend, glue, solder, or otherwise alter robotics equipment without permission from their sponsor.
  • Teams are not limited to the items in their robotics kits. They can also use everyday items as well as student-made items.
  • Each team will consist of one team sponsor and no more than four students. Students may only participate on one team.
  • The contest is open to grades K-12, with grade level divisions for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. If the team includes students from two divisions, the team must compete at the higher division.
  • Teams will be entered into geographical divisions as well.
    • North (Areas 9, 14, 16, 17, and Out of State)
    • East (Areas 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12)
    • South (Areas 1, 2, 3, 13, and 20)
    • West (Areas 15, 18, 19)
  • The team sponsor must be an active TCEA member for the duration of the contest season.
  • Team names should meet common school standards.
  • Teams must comply with copyright standards and the robot must be their original creation.
  • Participants or Guardians must sign and submit the Student Release Form regarding posting the video online, press release, and other social media outlets.
  • Each school/educational entity may enter a max of three entries per division. If a school/educational entity has more teams that want to participate, they are encouraged to run their own contest and register the top entries to TCEA.
  • Teams can consist of 4H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Charter Schools, STEM Clubs, home school, private schools, and ISD’s.

Need a logo to print on shirts or other materials, please contact Katie Treat at


Because this is a different kind of contest, TCEA will not award traditional places (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.). Instead, we will recognize accomplishments in other ways.

  • TCEA will recognize three entries across each grade level and geographical division. One team will be recognized for the most votes in each division. The other two recognitions will be announced after all entries have been submitted. The goal is to avoid limiting creativity.
  • A team can receive only one award.

Looking for More Information


The Amazing Story of Vollis Simpson

At age 60, farm machinery repairman Vollis Simpson began making gigantic kinetic sculptures at his family farm in Wilson County.  As he aged, he could no longer take care of his whirligigs and they fell into disrepair. But a grassroots movement started in 2010 and moved 30 of his gigantic mechanisms to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Historic Downtown Wilson, North Carolina. What a story!

Kinetic Wind Spinners from Evergreen Garden

Several displays from Evergreen Enterprises

7 Incredible Kinetic Sculptures

This 5-minute video takes you around the world to see true works of spinning and whirling art.

David Winigrad: Contemporary Whirligigs

Philadelphia craft artist David Winigrad talks about the history of this American folk art form and shows off his contemporary designed whirligigs.

The movie Twister

Aunt Meg has quite a collection of whirligigs in her yard.

Policy for Changes and Cancellations

TCEA accepts American Express, VISA, MasterCard, Discover, checks, and school purchase orders (POs) for payment. Purchase orders must include the following information: registrants’ names, a breakdown of coverage, a dollar amount for each item, and a total amount the purchase order.

Payment or purchase order must be received by the date of the contest, or your team(s) will not be able to participate.

Cancellation Policy
Cancellations must be made in writing via email to no later than five days before the contest. Cancellations received by the deadline will receive a full refund. Cancellations received after the deadline, but before the contest, will receive a refund, less a $10 cancellation fee, per team. After the event has taken place, no refunds will be given.

Refund Policy
If you registered with a purchase order, your purchase order will be charged the cancellation fee. Refunds will be processed after the event has taken place.

Changes to Registration
Changes in registration may only be made via email to The email must include the sponsor’s name and a list of items to be changed. A confirmation email will be sent to the registrant once changes are made.

Responsible Party
Regardless of the situation, it is the responsibility of the individual registrant to pay any balance that was not paid for by the employer, including cancellation charges.

Registration Payment
Send registration payments and :

Fax: 512 476 8574

Mailing Address:
TCEA Registration
P.O. Box 18507
Austin, Texas 78760

Physical Address (for overnight payments)
TCEA Registration
3100 Alvin Devane
Building B
Austin, Texas 78741