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Robocats grow from grant
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Robocats grow from grant

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The Kelly A. Burlison Middle School Robocats participated in their first robotics competition on Jan. 11 at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Farmington.

The Robocats competed against 24 other teams, coming in 10th place in the skills category, 16th in the teams category and receiving the Sportsmanship Award. 

"We received the Sportsmanship Award for being helpful on the practice field with the timer, and for being positive and encouraging to other teams during and before the competition," KABMS Robocats Coach Cassandra Mills said. "They praised other teams and were genuinely happy for other students when they succeeded. I think that attitude reflects our close-knit community. We have some really positive kids who are not afraid of failure. They see it as a learning opportunity."

Mills said the Robocats were at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the other schools at this first competition. 

"We started our program with a grant to get the kit. However, we did not have a practice field so our team built the robot based on the description in the game manual and we tested our robot by taping a 'practice' field onto my classroom floor," Mills said. "We were not able to compete in the coding section of the skills match. It's really hard to code when you don't have much of a way to do any trial and error runs."

Mills said even with this disadvantage, taking a zero score in the coding match, the team managed to score 10th out of 24 teams with its driver skills.

"We have some really talented and motivated kids," Mills said. "I couldn't be prouder of my kids. Even with our disadvantage they did what they could with what they had, and they never got discouraged."

Mills said the competing robotics and coding club focuses on problem-solving, collaboration, self-awareness and management, personal responsibility, optimistic thinking, and increasing student achievement and competence in the areas of match, technology and science.

"Robotics isn't just about teaching students about STEM skills that are essential to prepare students for today's world of innovation," Mills said. "It's also about creating leaders, allowing students to explore their passions, and practice crucial teamwork skills that lend themselves across the board for future careers and sport involvement."

Mills said robotics allows students an opportunity to not only problem solve but to also express themselves by allowing them to show off their creativity and ingenuity. She said they collaborate in teams to solve problems and make something that they can be proud to show off to their peers and to adults.

During their first competition, the KABMS Robocats built a robot in order to score a maximum amount of points within a designated field. 

"The challenges involved moving cubes to color coordinated corners, putting cubes on platforms of different heights, and placing spheres into and on top of cubes," Mills said. "We compete with other teams from around the state in coordinated matches as teammates so students get a chance to meet other students and strategize with what each team's strengths are."

Mills said the team also had an additional portion of the competition where it competed with skills driving alone and autonomously navigating the field with code.

There has been a robotics class in the Learning Zone After School Program for about two and a half years now.

"There has always been a pretty big demand for the group, but we finally just started our competing group about two months ago when we received a VEX IQ robotics kit through a girl-powered grant," Mills said. "On that note, we are currently looking for more girls who are interested in robotics."

Mills said they currently have several students who are interested in competing, however the group would need more kits to be able to register additional teams for the school.

"I have had several students approach me asking about how they can join our robotics team," Mills said. "Unfortunately with the supplies we have, we don't have the capability to take on extra members, but we are hoping to be able to get more kits so we can register more teams for our school."

Mills said each kit costs around $400. She said the family of Shelby Kennedy volunteered to get a practice field for the KABMS Robocats to help them train for their next competition Feb. 8 at Mineral Area College.

"Our goals are to improve our robot's design and to participate in the code section of the skills match," Mills said. "We have also started fundraising so we can expand our competitive team and provide an opportunity for more students to engage in VEX competitions next year. Our final goal is to encourage more girls to join our group."

Mills said any business willing to sponsor the KABMS Robocats could advertise on the team shirts. 

Any business or individual who would like to donate or help sponsor the team can contact Cassandra Mills at the Kelly A. Burlison Middle School at 573-783-6555

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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