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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Robotics

Our homeschool co-op, West Wichita Homeschool Ministries (WWHM) decided last year to start a Lego Robotics club which would compete in the Lego robotics competition held by Wichita State University every year. I was approached by my friend Erlene last spring to see if Evan would be interested in joining, and I knew he would be. This fall when WWHM started back up, the idea was a reality and Evan and 11 of his friends joined. We began our journey in the middle of November. The regular co-op elementary and middle school classes were done for the semester, but the high school classes still had four weeks left, so we began meeting during those last weeks on Mondays for 2 hours. In January, we began meeting Mondays and Fridays for 2 hours each. After a couple of weeks of observing the students mess around with basic robot designs and programming, our group of 12 divided up into 3 groups of four. Even though we were divided into 3 sub teams, come competition day all of our scores were combined as one team. I was asked to become one of the sub coaches and Roger as well for Evan's sub team. I was very excited to learn along with Evan and the other students and be a part of this club.
Team gathered to discuss agenda
Just practice teams, not official teams (only 9 out of 12 members present)
Teams learning parts and terminology through a scavenger hunt type activity
Learning about some programming
Practicing building

Testing to see if the robot can travel in a straight line
We prepared for months (November-March) for the robotics competition day at Wichita State University that was held yesterday, March 9th. The theme for this year's competition was The Hobbit. There were several different courses that the competition designers created based on scenes from the book/movie. Each of our sub teams chose a different course to build robots to race on. Our club was given the design patterns for the courses we chose and dads built replicas so that we could practice before competition day. Our sub team was the last to get their course built and it was torture. We had to wait a whole 2 weeks after the other sub teams had their courses built before we could start trying to successfully build a robot to traverse the course. While waiting, there really wasn't much the kids could do except practice designing and programming things they had been working on already. Once we got our course, we could finally start figuring out how to design our robot to be the perfect size, and figuring out how to program it to successfully follow the course.
Adding the black tape line the robot must follow to the finished course


From the beginning Evan's sub team was working really well together. There were four jobs that needed to be done on a team: builder, programmer, recorder/note taker, and tester. It took a couple of weeks but we finally figured out who would be best for what job. But, several weeks ago that all changed with two of our team members. Evan's team was 2 boys and 2 girls. The two girls are the ones who ended up giving us the most trouble and the most drama. What stinks, is one of these girls had WSU robotic challenge experience from participating on another team the last 2 years. She was excited to share her knowledge, and so was her mom, but when they weren't getting their way about things, the mom decided she was not going to help us any more by giving us tips and teaching the kids how to develop team spirit, and I think the mom's attitude transferred onto her daughter. A few weeks ago Roger and I were getting no participation, emotion, reaction from either of the girls. They were not wanting to help in any way and so Evan was picking up all of the slack that needed to be done. The other boy was trying to help in any way that he could, but just wasn't as knowledgeable with these things as Evan. Evan asked politely for help from the girls but the were just stonewalling him. He became so frustrated that he ended up in tears. Roger and I took our sub team into another room and talked to them about working as a team and all we got was dead silence. We talked with the moms about what was going on, and they made their daughters help, but you could tell the girls were doing so under duress.

A happy team
A silly team
Three weeks before competition day, we had a trial day at WSU. Evan and Roger could not make it because it interfered with a Boy Scout activity they had to do. I decided I would go anyways since I was a coach. Well, when Lauren and I got there in the morning, I had not brought a computer cord the team needed for the computers. So, back home Lauren and I drove to get the cord and then back to WSU--an hour of driving that took us. When I got back to the college, our head coach Erlene was trying to work with my team in my absence and she was so frustrated with the lack of participation she was getting. You have to understand something, Erlene is a wonderful peacekeeping, motivational, positive, diplomat who doesn't get rattled easily and for her to tell me how frustrated she was with my team, I knew she was understanding where my frustrations were coming from. After trial day, the mom we had been having difficulties with emailed Erlene and I that she and her husband decided their daughter needed to do a certain job on this team, and they did not want to discuss the matter with us. Nope, that wasn't going to happen, so Erlene, myself, this mom, and two other ladies who would be witnesses during the meeting all met to talk things out. Afterwards I was feeling peace and good about what we talked about, and it seemed like everything was at an understanding and resolved. Wrong! The next few weeks proved to be very trying.

So, yesterday was competition day. Evan was so excited! We dropped Lauren off at her friend's house whose brother was also on the team, so we picked him up and took him to WSU. Lauren rejoined us at 3:30. We arrived a little after 8 a.m. Doors to the gymnasium we would be competing in opened at 8:30. We filed inside, found our designated table and began testing and programming. There was also a table that we had to set up a display on including a notebook that showed samples of our progression as a team complete with worksheets, notes, and pictures. Besides the course racing, table display, and judges walking around scoring our team spirit, the students also had to do an oral presentation in a room with judges. They did a power point presentation where two members from each sub team spoke about challenges they had to overcome learning how to design and program their robots for their respective courses. The students had practiced all of this the night before and Evan was one of the chosen speakers for our sub team. After the official presentation the judges asked any questions they wanted to and any of the kids could answer. Only 3 coaches were allowed to go in. I was one of them, but at the last minute Evan wanted Roger in there so he went in with the group. All of the coaches came out of the room with positive things to say about how the kids did.

Our team was One Brick (the main brain of a Lego robot is called a brick) and our motto was "to rule them all"--reference to Lord of the Rings. Kids chose name, motto, and color and design of team shirt.
Nobody noticed until later on in the day that there was 1 too many "r"s in our last name on this cool name tag
Our sub team in front of our table display










Team huddle
Our team huddle about to filmed on WSU tv
Erlene being interviewed on WSU tv

Getting down to business
One of our sub teams being interviews on WSU tv


Team practicing presentation in the hallway
I was taking pics through the window in the door of the presentation room
Evan giving his part of the presentation using power point slides
I wish I could say the day was a success, but in some ways it wasn't. As soon as we began running our robot on the course, we started having problems. Oh my goodness what was going on? We had made successful run after successful run on our homemade courses. Our course was made out of pegboard and the course at the competition had one pegboard piece that was darker that our homemade course did not have and it threw our sensor that we were using to to maneuver the course out of wack because the sensor was made to follow the black strip of tape that ran through our course, but the darker peg board was too dark that the contrast of the board with the black tape was not different enough and our sensor lost the color difference of the tape and would get off track. (Did I lose you there? Sorry!) We spent most of the day trying to reprogram the robot to get passed that hurdle. For the last few months, we have had a WSU engineering student helping our group, and he spent the last few hours of competition day trying to help us with our robot. He had been helping the other sub teams throughout the day. I am happy to say that one of our sub teams did get their robot to successfully maneuver their course, so that was a wonderful success for our team. And, I am happy to say that Evan and the grad student were able to successfully figure out a complete new program for our robot that got us 350 points out of a possible 1000, but after all of our struggle, I was thrilled with that score. After having said all of that, the one disappointment I really had yesterday was the continuing drama of the girls on our team. From the start of the day, they checked out, didn't care, and completely disrespected Erlene, Roger and myself. We tried very nicely to ask them to participate and one of the girls whenever she was asked to do work kept telling us she needed to go to the bathroom or needed to go talk to her mom about something. The other girl told Roger a flat out no when he asked her to help build something for the robot, and a little bit later when Evan politely asked her to help she literally wagged her finger in his face and told him no. I had had enough. I told Erlene I was about to ask the girls to go home or I was about to take Evan home. Once again he had the weight of the team on his shoulders. The entire team took a break and Erlene, Roger, the mom we had been having difficulties, and our sub team went out to have a pow-wow about what was going on. It seemed like things got a little better after that, but without going into more details, I was very upset with these girls the rest of the day and had to try very hard to just accept that they were checked out, and just ignore their defiance and concentrate on helping out Evan and the other boy on our team who was caught in the middle of all of this, but was trying his best to help out Evan.
The sub team's course that was successful with 1000 points--spider from Lord of the Rings books
Evan and WSU grad student Mr. Gilmore trying to figure out the programming
video

video

Competition allows the teams to have as many practice runs with their robots as they want throughout the day, but they only get two official runs to earn the maximum number of points. Competition ends at 4:00 so we began our official runs at 3:30. The first run our robot got down the first ramp but then lost it's way. the second run, it got down the first ramp and made it all the way to the first wall and back to the first ramp. Each turn it made and when the robot passed certain points is what gave us points. We tried our best. At 4:00 the teams needed to clean up and at 5:00 had to be in a different building for the awards ceremony. We unfortunately didn't win anything, but I am so proud of the kids who gave it their all and tried their very best to work as a team, and learn how to design and program robots. I am looking forward to taking all of the knowledge we've gained this year and making better changes for next year. Most of all, I am proud of my son. This was all a new experience for him, but he had determination, passion, drive, energy, tried his very best to help his team work smoothly, showed his ingenuity and ability, and creativity with working with Legos, and came out of his comfort zone of speaking in front of others during the presentation. My heart is full with how well he did.
Team One Brick 2013

1 comment:

  1. Evan did a fantastic job! He should be proud of himself. I know what a struggle this was at times. I'm sorry you had to deal with all that drama. Thanks for hanging in there and being one of the coaches. Overall, it has been a great experience for all of us. Can't wait to see how we do next year!

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