The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 11, 2014

Robot competition presents challenge for Joplin students

JOPLIN, Mo. — When Kacy Winn enrolled in Joplin High School’s robotics class two years ago, he just wanted the opportunity to build something with his hands.

Countless hours of building, tweaking and creative problem-solving on a robot landed Winn and his partner, Robert Yoders, in the first local VEX Robot Competition, held Saturday at Joplin High School’s Northpark Mall campus.

“I love the idea that I put together something from the ground up that I designed,” Winn said. “It was intriguing for me when I first started, and now it has turned into a point of pride for me.”

The competition featured student-designed robots that were built from parts sanctioned by VEX Robotics. While the parts are uniform, students’ design possibilities are nearly limitless. The designs vary with the kind of competition the students face.

Saturday’s events were held in a 12-foot-by-12-foot arena that challenged students to direct their robots to pick up different shaped balls and move them to specific areas of the arena.

The event drew about 40 students on 13 teams.

Many of the competitors spent their free time Saturday making last-minute adjustments to their robots after seeing their competitors in the early rounds. That drive to continually improve is what Joplin High School teacher Kaci Dorton said makes her class unique.

“There really is no stopping point for the students because they are put into a learning environment that they learn at their own pace,” Dorton said. “It is a competition, but it is also a challenge to themselves. How much time they want to put into this is up to them.”

Dorton said her robotics class teaches students a variety of skills.

“When people think of industrial tech, they think of shop class from when they were in school,” Dorton said. “But these kids are out there learning about engineering. They are applying gear ratios, drive trains, electrical wiring and even computer programming. It is a completely interdisciplinary class that lets them pull in everything they want to explore.”

Dorton also said that the pressure is different from that of other high school competitions.

“It is a tournament, but there is so much sportsmanship between the teams,” Dorton said. “You’ll see teams helping each other get their robots up and going if something breaks. There isn’t a lot of selfishness or ego between the competitors; they are there to continue learning.”

After Winn and Yoders completed their final preliminary round in the tournament, the duo spent time studying designs of other teams.

“It is friendly competition, and you will see teams share how they got something working because we are all problem-solving together,” Yoders said. “We are all going for high scores, but we are really wanting to just continue to get better.

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