, Muskogee, OK

February 2, 2013

Students display tech prowess with robots in ring

By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer

— TAHLEQUAH — Muskogee High School freshmen Christian Howe and Skylar Koumbis have been building robots since the seventh grade.

On Saturday, they helped represent MHS at the VEX Robotics Competition hosted by the Cherokee Nation. The competition took place at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, matching 35 teams from several Oklahoma schools against each other in a battle of titillating technology.

Howe said it this was his first competition, and it took he and Koumbis around two weeks to build their robot.

“We had some problems with weight balancing,” Howe said. We’d put the bean bags in it, and it would just tip over. We decided to put a wheelie bar on the back, and that fixed it. The wheelie bar was all Skylar’s idea.”

Teams competing in this year’s event were given size, wiring, and material requirements in advance, as well as the layout of the “game” the robots would be playing. The game consisted of several bean bags in a pit, which was bisected by a trough for each team in which to place the bags. At the sound of the horn, teams spent the first 15 seconds with their robot in autonomous mode, then the last 1:45 in driving mode.

Tonya Scott, a regional support manager for the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, said they have about 7,000 teams competing around the world.

“We’re the largest robotics corporation in the world,” Scott said. “We’re very well-organized. We provide all the documents and the training for the event sponsors.”

Some of those documents are the inspection checklists, which include a size and parts inspection, as well as a field control check before a robot is allowed on the playing field. If the robot is not up to code, the team is given as many chances as they need to go back and get it competition legal.

In addition to many local high schools, the competition attracted the attention of the College of Education at Northeastern State University.

Dr. Debbie Landry, dean of the College of Education, said after spending some time researching the advancements in robotics, she wants to include them in the program’s core.

“We built a practice ring at the College of Education,” Landry said. “We’ve partnered with Cherokee Nation and some very generous donors. Our goal is to have this as a part of our Tech Ed class. It’s a great way connect math and science for students.”

Bill Andoe, the deputy director of education services for Cherokee Nation, agreed with Landry.

“This is a great way to engage students in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activity,” Andoe said. “It ties into the new core curriculum as well. Programs like this provide hands-on activities and learning, and the competition puts what they learn into context.”

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2809 or tsloat