Robots showcase learning

Robots showcase learning

May 13th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

Battle Academy fourth-grade students Connor Mixon, Simeon Honeycutt, Aidan Cooley and Jaya Gardner, from left, watch their robot compete during a robotics showcase at TVA late Thursday morning. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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Hunter Easterly was determined to make his robot climb a raised track to complete its mission of carrying a payload up and over a hump.

The new mission required a last-minute programming change after Hunter and his Signal Mountain Middle School robotics team realized a robotic part had been damaged on the way to the showcase at the TVA building in Chattanooga.

Carefully and patiently, the youngsters tried again and again to get the robot's weight distributed just right for its revised task.

For a first set of Tennessee Valley Authority judges, the robot worked perfectly. For the second set, the robot kept lurching off track.

But judge Jeff Parsley, vice president of enterprise relations, still was impressed - especially with the youngsters' can-do attitude.

"It's easy to be excited when a project works, but I like watching the reaction when it doesn't. In every case here, the reaction wasn't, 'We failed.' It was, 'We've got to make an adjustment - we've got to do something different.' I like that."

Fourteen schools sent teams to the showcase where TVA judges could see the work and talk with students about their successes and repeat efforts.

TVA provides funding and mentors for the robotics program to help Hamilton County students succeed - specifically in math, science and technology.

Science teacher Dara Lacy said the Brown Academy team, which calls itself the IBOTS, had been together only since January. The students meet twice a week for a total of three hours to work on their projects.

Thursday's showcase helped prepare them for upcoming competitions, Lacy said. In those events the students will gain points for each accomplishment, as well as for their teamwork and courtesy to other teams.

IBOT Deandre Rowe, 10, said he wanted to be part of the robotics program to prepare for his future.

"I want to be a game maker when I grow up, and my big brother and big sister told me I have to learn computer science to do that," he said.

His teammate, fourth-grader Tory Sewell, plans to be an engineer.

"It's learning and having fun at the same time," Tory said.

At Thursday's showcase, all the teams were winners and every student took home a medal.

Calling himself a novice judge, TVA's Steve McCracken, general manager for the Kingston ash recovery project, said it was rewarding to see the students - elementary ages through high school - interested in engineering, science and technology.

"They're trying to program a robot that would be small enough to go in the body and perform an operation and then go back to the base," he said, describing the intent of each Lego robot mission.

But an equally important lesson is teamwork, McCracken said.

"That's something most of us don't learn until we're already out in the workplace," he said.