Robotics Team Makes Clean Sweep - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

11/11/05 - Nacogdoches

Robotics Team Makes Clean Sweep

by Donna McCollum

Several years ago Nacogdoches Independent School District created a robotics enrichment program for students gifted and talented in math and science. Apparently a smart move. Several teams just returned as winners in regional competition.

The McMichael Middle School girls call their team the Band Geeks, but robotic geeks would be more appropriate. Megan Farrish proudly shows off the first place medal. Teammate Sierra Lunsfore said, "We kinda like to think of it as Nacogdoches won, not our team."

That's because a lot of help came from Longhorn Catscratch, the boys team and second place winners. In third place was a Mike Moses Middle School team. Samantha Whitbeck boasts, "We took a clean sweep of the competition as Ms Grogan would say."

The teacher would also say the members of teams with unconventional names are "brainiacs". "It involves science knowledge, process skills, higher level thinking. There's a lot of math that goes on for timing," explained Jeri Grogan.

This is how it works. The students use Legos to build a robot that looks like the cars they built as little kids. Except for one thing. Grogan points to a yellow attachment. "It's called an RCX. We call it the brain of the robot." It allows the robot to stop and turn and do what it's told.

The real brains are the students who program the robot to work in a set pattern of Coke cans representing survivors and debris depicted by Spam cans. 8th grader Paul Porter agreed they have to take a trial and error approach. "Our objective is to get the coke can over here and we told it to back, turn, and push the Spam cans on that side of the arena." Judges give points for speed and accuracy. Thousands of programs can accomplish the same task. The goal is to have the best. When the robot doesn't perform the task like Porter was expecting he reaches over with his arm and takes control. "And it's supposed to push Spam cans over here...right over there."

Whitbeck looks as failures as challenges. "You watch it do something wrong and then you think about it for awhile and you go to the program and fix it and then when it works it's just so relieving."

The robots sometimes appear to have a mind of their own, but so do the students. The two together create a beneficial challenge. The robotic teams are now preparing for state competition that will be held in February.

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