Today, students from KIPP Academy’s Robotix Club are in Dallas starting day one of competition in the Texas BEST & UIL State Robotics Championship that introduces middle and high school students to engineering, problem-solving, and teamwork.
The three-day championship features 78 of the best teams from Texas and New Mexico. KIPP Academy’s Robotix team qualified during regionals at Houston Community College.
“The club helps define teamwork,” eighth grader Peter Tong said. “We each have one part to do. If we don’t do it right, the whole robot comes crashing down and we just totally fail. Each person has to do their part so that we can win.”
For the past six weeks, they have been upgrading their robot, fixing grippers and adding parts. Twelve of the 20 members will be traveling to Dallas to test their improved robot. “Last year, our robot wasn’t as organized as it is right now,” Peter said. “Keeping the robot clean and tidy is vital to winning the competition.”
BUILDING CHARACTER AND NEW SKILLS WHILE BUILDING ROBOTS
KIPP Academy math instructor and Robotics Club faculty lead Tam Tran started the club in 2015, which meets daily. “On class days, we do programming, brainstorming, and researching. We talk about strategies,” Tam said. “Friday, we only use strictly for building.”
Friday build days are usually the most enjoyable for students. On those days, the club also receives additional help as KIPP Academy fifth-grade science teacher Joana Gomez and NASA sub-contractor Arthur Schlauch both volunteer.
Joana chose to get involved in the club because she saw what the club did last year. They met in her classroom and she liked watching them work. “It’s been great getting to know the kids outside of the classroom environment,” Joana said. “It’s not just pen, paper, or computer work. They’re actually designing and creating. They have to apply what they learn in class, like calculating angles.”
Arthur’s dedication is evident, especially considering his Friday commute time. “It’s about 40 minutes,” he said. “I live in Clear Lake. I’m an engineer, so I love to do this kind of stuff.”
“We are so blessed to have him here,” Tam said. “When we first started out, I asked the BEST (Boasting Engineering Science and Technology) competition if they had somebody who could help and mentor us. He just happened to be off with another team because his son was going to high school. He said, ‘Okay let me come and help you.’”
The mentoring has paid off as Arthur has watched the students’ improve and grow over the past year. “It’s great to see that some of them who have never touched a power tool now feel comfortable with them,” Arthur said.
Not only has Arthur taught the students skills, he’s also taught some of the teachers. “I’ve learned how to use a sewing machine,” Joana said. “Anything from making a bell work to drilling, I’d had no idea how to do that.”
While Arthur oversees a majority of the club’s machining, Tam’s devotion is displayed in various ways such as feeding the entire group every Friday. “Mrs. Tran is a very motherly and caring person,” Joana said. “She treats all 20 kids like she does her own. She makes sure that they eat before they get to work. She even has watermelon as a snack. It’s pretty amazing. All of the commitment, and all of the work she puts in, it’s incredible.”
Farming is the theme of this year’s State Robotics Championship and scoring is determined by select criteria: planting seeds (golf balls) and picking up corn to place it into a bend. Planting a seed gives teams 10 points, while picking up corn and placing it into a bend is 20 points. Thirty extra points are awarded if a team does both items together.
“We’re going to plant a bunch of golf balls and then do as many corn as we can,” Arthur said of the team’s strategy.
Having previously helped his son’s Robotic teams, Arthur has attended the past seven Texas BEST & UIL State Robotics Championships. Unlike the KIPP Academy students, he knows what to expect. His words of advice are: “Have fun, do your best. Watch what the other teams do and learn from them.’”
The group aspires to perform better than they did at regionals, and believe they are capable.
“We’re aiming to be at least one of the highest scoring teams as possible,” Peter said. “Most of our checklist is done already. We’re ready to go.”