DMS students entering first robotics competition

Ben Robertson takes notes as his Demopolis Middle School team learns of its challenge in the BEST robotics competition.

Ben Robertson takes notes as his Demopolis Middle School team learns of its challenge in the BEST robotics competition.

Being a rookie middle school team competing against more than two dozen experienced ones doesn’t seem to faze the students in Ashley Brock’s class.

Instead, they are relishing the idea of going up against high school groups in constructing a robot.

Brock is in her second year teaching science at Demopolis Middle School. Blaine Hathcock, DMS principal, wanted to offer unique electives this year, and Brock agreed to teach robotics. This is her first time to teach the subject, but she was exposed to the competition while at Auburn University.

The main focus of her class is the district competition in robotics which will be held Nov. 2 at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.

The class – and Brock – learned Thursday, Sept. 19, what their robot must do. They traveled to Tuscaloosa to pick up their boxes of supplies. Now they have six weeks to complete projects and construct a robot that can perform certain tasks.

When the students saw the challenge, “They didn’t flinch a bit,” Brock said. “They have no fear.”

James Jones expects the building of school's robot to be the most challenging part of the competition.

James Jones expects the building of school’s robot to be the most challenging part of the competition.

“Being a middle school team will be better for us,” said Aaron White. The team’s “maturity level is kind of raw,” he added.

The 16 eighth-grade boys and girls in her class will construct a robot that must complete three stations in the game field:

1. Place wooden dowels into pvc pipe

2. Put clothes hangers on knobs

3. Place pieces into the mockup of a computer processing unit’s motherboard

While at Shelton State last week the students took measurements of the game field and tried out moving the platform on which their robot will be placed.

Ben Robertson took the initiative to talk with the coach of last year’s winning team – Sumter Central High School – to get ideas on how the DMS team can succeed.

Each student will have a job title and be responsible for certain aspects of the project, but all of them must be aware of what’s going on in each department. They can be quizzed at any time by any of the judges.

The students in Ashley Brock's elective class at Demopolis Middle School will be entering their first robotics competition this year.

The students in Ashley Brock’s elective class at Demopolis Middle School will be entering their first robotics competition this year.

“I want them to see there are options out there for them,” explained Brock. She is looking to find the strengths of all the students and offer a place to students who feel there is none for them.

To help the students complete the project, two engineers with Georgia Pacific are serving as mentors. Chris Stewart and James Lee traveled to Shelton State with the class members and will meet with them at least weekly to guide their work.

When completed, the robot competition will include far more than science. As part of the project, the class must keep an engineering notebook of every step in developing the robot, prepare a Power Point presentation and construct a table-top booth displaying their work.

In addition Taylor Conley will build a web page on the schools’ website to show the class’ progress in designing and building the robot.

The students will be using physics and math for the robot, English for the written paper and oral presentation, art for the display, and technology in the Power Point presentation.

Aaron White said the most challenging part of the task will be the assembly of the robot arm. James Jones believes the biggest challenge will be building the robot itself.

But then Jamaal Thurman said building the robot will be the most fun.

Malik Moore is looking forward to the competition “and the feeling you get when you’re up against other teams.”

Excited as she is about the competition, Brock wants to present the robot to the Demopolis community after the competition to let people know what the students are doing.

If her class wins the district competition, the next level is regionals at Auburn.

Brock hopes this is just the beginning of a strong robotics course. She has 20 seventh-graders signed up for her spring class. If her grant application is approved, she will use a robot kit provided by the Demopolis City Schools Foundation to introduce the students to robotics. She hopes they will return in the fall and be ready to compete.