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Teams prepare for robotics contest

October 25, 2010

SCHE Team Eclipse team members uses AutoCAD to design their robot for competition.

Two teams of local students are building robots to compete in a statewide competition early next month.
Both the Starkville Christian Home Educators and Starkville Christian School have formed teamed to compete in the Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) robotics competition at the state level Nov. 6 against 16 other teams. From there, the top three teams will travel to Auburn, Ala. — home to the BEST competition — to compete in a regional challenge. The competition sees 11,000 high schoolers participate annually.
The BEST program was started in 1993 by Auburn University as a way to engage high school and middle school students in the engineering, science and technology fields, and to encourage them to pursue careers in those fields.
Once a team is formed and registered with the competition, they receive a box filled with items, which they use to make the robot, such as PVC pipe, screws, irrigation valve, piano wire, a bicycle inner tube and other various hardware.
From there, teams will have six weeks to build a robot, write a research paper, keep a 25-page notebook logging their progress, prepare a speech to deliver to judges at the competition, market their robot, design a PowerPoint presentation and talk to local schools about the BEST competition.
Each year, the basics of the competition stay the same, but the task the robot has to accomplish changes with each year to challenge the students’ programming skills. This year’s theme will focus on six sigma, which is a business management strategy that was developed by Motorola in 1981 as a way to reduce errors in manufacturing by removing defective products.
This year’s robots will be programed to identify defective products on a playing field, and remove them to ensure quality.
The goal, according to the BEST website, is to help students become competent and confident in abstract thinking, self-directed learning, teamwork, project management, decision-making, problem-solving and leadership.

Starkville Christian Home Educators

This is the fourth year the Starkville Christian Home Educators Team Eclipse has participated in the event. Their team of roughly 30 students ranging from middle to high school is led by Co-Presidents Micah Little, 17, and Miandra Miaers, 16, who have participated in the competition for all four years.
“Each year, the strategy is probably the most important thing we have to worry about,” Little explained. “The robot all depends on the theme outlined by BEST each year.”
“A lot of times, you can use the same main idea when making the robot, but the theme changes and so will the robot,” Miaers said. “I think my favorite part is applying everything I’ve learned in school and seeing it play out in the course of this project.”
The team holds twice-weekly three-hour meetings to work on the robot, notebook, marketing, presentation and research paper. With such a large group, and so many tasks to complete, students are matched with their strengths and broken into groups. Little and Miaers admit that at times, with so many ideas circulating through the group, it can become hectic.
“The point of BEST is to interest all students in the niche of their choice,” Little said. “Thanks to BEST, I think I will probably be an engineering in some field.”
“It also teacher us how to work together because we all have different ideas and different strengths,” Miaers added.
The competition requires teams to market BEST to other students, so the SCHE visited a school in West Point to talk about their robot and the BEST challenge.
The SCHE earned first place last year in the BEST portion of the competition, which includes the presentation, speech, notebook and marketing. They finished eleventh in the robotics portion out of 52 teams.
To learn more about the SCHE, visit the website at http://www.schescience.org.

Starkville Christian School

Last year was the first year for the Starkville Christian School to enter into the BEST competition with a modest team of eight high schoolers.
“The SCS CougarBots are in their second year of competition, and the team has grown tremendously in their knowledge of robotics and the engineering design process. Two new members have joined this year, as well as two new mentors that have assisted the team with CAD training and coding the robot,” team mentor Dale Jordan said.
“I am excited about their potential this year, and I believe all of their hard work will pay off at the 2010 Mississippi BEST competition.”
This year, the small team has returned with a renewed sense of confidence after a fourth place finish in the robotics portion of the competition last year.
“Our eyes were really opened after last year’s competition seeing what everyone else did versus what we did,” returning team member Ryan Lawrence said. “We were able to compare and really get a checklist of things we need to accomplish this year, which has really helped us improve.”
Though the team agrees a year under their belts has helped immensely, designing the robot proved to be challenging.
“At first, we had trouble with the design of the robot, but everyone submitted ideas, and we combined all the ideas to make a functioning robot,” returning CougarBot Caleb Jordan said.
“It says a lot about our teamwork because we’re taking different ideas and putting them together to reach a solution.”
With such a small team, each member is able to help in each area of the competition.
“Production is going much better than it did last year,” Lawrence said of the team.
“Now we know exactly what we have to do, but for me it’s a little more stressful because we are more aware of when we’re not on task,” Alex Calhoun said.
“It’s stressful, but we’re stressing out about different things (than we were last year).”
To fulfill the marketing portion of the project, the CougarBots visits Starkville Academy to give a presentation of their experience in the competition. The visited accomplished just what BEST hopes as one SA student asked how his school could become involved, to which the CougarBots explained that it is free to enter, all one needs is a team, a mentor and the drive to do so.
To follow the CougarBots, visit the website at http://www.scschool.org/robotics2010.

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