Middle school robotics team places in competition by helping others
The Oquirrh Hills Middle School FIRST Robotics Competition team, the Velocity Raptors, poses with the trophy the team won at a state-qualifying event in Park City. (Todd Monson)
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February was a busy month for Oquirrh Hills Middle School’s robotics team. The team placed ninth in the statewide competition on Feb. 11 and represented the Jordan School District at the state capitol during Utah’s Education Day on the Hill on Feb. 24.
Comprised of 11 eighth- and ninth-graders, the team, self-titled the Velocity Raptors, is associated with FIRST Robotics Competition, an international systemized STEM tournament for high school students. Each year FIRST creates a challenge that competitors must accomplish using a robot they build and program. This year, the challenge involved picking up, carrying and throwing whiffle and exercise balls using robots—a complicated feat for anyone, let alone middle school kids, Velocity Raptors coach Todd Monson said.
“The part I enjoy most is seeing their perseverance getting past and beyond difficulties,” Monson said about his team members. “They don’t give up. They keep refining and working at things, and they don’t get frustrated.”
The Velocity Raptors helped other teams to persevere during work days, days that teams gathered together to make adjustments to robots, and at their region competition, where they competed to qualify for state. Ironically, helping other teams succeed is the reason the Velocity Raptors placed third at their region match in Park City, said team co-captain Nicholas Sill.
During the last round of the Park City qualifier, the three teams with the highest scores invited other teams to team up with them against their opponents. One of the top teams invited the Velocity Raptors to join its alliance because of the help they’d offered earlier on in the competition, Nicholas said. The Velocity Raptor’s effort in the last round brought their score up to third place.
“This year, we are moving further than I ever expected, so that is exciting,” said ninth-grader Anakin Lee, the team’s other co-captain.
In addition to the state and region competitions, the Velocity Raptors were invited to the state Legislature’s Day on Capitol Hill where academic groups from various districts presented what they’d learned during the 2016–17 school year. The OHMS robotics team had an opportunity to set up a robot battlefield and show state legislators what the team had been working on.
“There are so many schools all across the state, so it’s really an honor to be selected for this,” Monson said.
The team met for two-hour practices twice a week to prepare their robot, making numerous adjustments and additions to their robot prototype over time. The team rearranged their robot’s wheels to add stabilization and arm to increase functionality. The team members also made some superficial improvements, such as adding combat music to their robot and a green sign created from their school’s 3D Printer.
Nicholas, who led the team in the programming aspect of the robot, and several other students used a programming app on a smartphone to tell the robot how to move. Other students, under the direction of Anakin were, more involved in the building of the robot’s mechanisms. The Riverton Lowe’s donated several hundreds of dollars of supplies for the teenagers to use when constructing the robot body.
Each team member contributed unique ideas to the construction of the robot and its programming, the captains said.
“It’s really interesting when you get all of us working together,” Anakin said. “You couldn’t do this if you were working by yourself. You really need multiple people’s ideas to sift out the good ones.”
Besides teaching teamwork, Anakin said his two years on Oquirrh Hill’s robotics teams have helped give him high aspirations for the future.
“This has kind of been my dream,” he said. “I like building stuff, and building robots, and so this has been an experience for me of what I want to do in my life. I am still deciding what I am planning on doing in my life, but his is helping me learn what job—what career—I want and what classes I am going to take in high school to progress this career.”