Wheaton Robodogs compete at State

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
The Wheaton robotics team presented to the Wheaton school board in honor of their admission into the state competition on Saturday. Jordan Privett/jprivett@cassville-democrat.com

4-year-old program reaches highest heights

The Wheaton Robodogs competed at State for the first time ever in the four-year-old program on Saturday, going against 48 other teams and winding up on the waiting list for Worlds.

Pam Peterson, Wheaton junior and senior high math teacher, has also overseen the robotics team and STEM program for the last four years.

The Wheaton robotics team has evened its build and code and competed in the state competition on Saturday. Jordan Privett/jprivett@cassville-democrat.com

“We made it to the west conference qualifier last year, but [went] all the way to state this year,” she said. “We did not advance to Worlds in Houston, but we had a really good showing and a great run. We learned an incredible amount and to be exposed to that and get to see Missouri S&T was amazing.”

Peterson said the team is on the waiting list for Worlds for its notebook.

“There are two brackets, and we finished 21st of 24 in our bracket,” she said. “But, it’s not as simple as the top 10 teams go to Worlds. Our robot performed OK, but our notebook did exceptionally well. We almost qualified with that. We have two 2-inch notebooks full of documentation of our design, programming and outreach.”

Going to Worlds is a big opportunity, as the team would stay there for a week and meet teams from all around the world.

“The registration fee for that is around $2,000,” Peterson said. “But, if we make it to that, there are grants that will help pay.”

The Robodogs beat 35 others in January at Drury and 36 on Feb. 15 in Blue Springs to qualify for State.

“The top five from Drury go to Blue Springs, and the top seven there attend the qualifier,” Peterson said. “I first got into this when the former principal asked and I said yes. It is a lot of fun and a lot of stress.”

The robot itself changes often and has evolved with every meet or competition.

“It is a continuing learning process,” Peterson said. “Everything gets modified, the robot build and its code.”

Another important aspect of the robotic competitions is the notebook the students keep on all the modifications.

“The notebook has to evolve with the robot,” Peterson said. “Every new code has to go into the notebook. It is part of the scoring. We can’t win any awards without it.”

The notebook helps show the judges the process from day one and it proves originality of their ideas.

“Documentation gets them ready to be in the engineering world,” Peterson said.

A huge benefit to the Wheaton Robodogs is the access to a 3D printer.

“We got it through a generous donation from a local gentleman and his company,” she said. “It cost around $1,100 when it was purchased and it is on the higher end product-wise.”

The 3D printer has been used in many ways for both the team and the community.

“We are making our fourth stone cap, which is placed on the top of the stacked bricks once they are finished,” Peterson said. “But, we also teamed up with the Power of Pink and sell breast cancer awareness keychains and earrings and give all the money to the Power of Pink.”

Keychains sell for $5, and earrings sell for $10, and the robotics team was able to donate $400 last year.

Lilly Allen, senior, said for her, that reaches a personal level.

“I have had a lot of family members that faced cancer,” she said. “To be able to give back to the community shows that this isn’t just about us or a robot, but it is also about outreach.”

Tosha Graves, senior, said those outreach opportunities mean a lot to the group.

“It shows how much we rely on our community,” she said. “Without the community and our sponsors, we wouldn’t have a new arm motor that we needed or our arena.”

The arena was made the second year of the robotics team’s existence.

“We made our own field, but it was causing issues with accuracy,” Graves said. “We were able to purchase the $600 arena supplies through donations.”

Currently, the team is also putting focus on building a LEGO League in the Wheaton elementary.

“Brittany King, senior, said that is the beginning of what they do.

“If we can create that interest in the younger children and students, then that prepares them to join this program when they are older,” she said.

Peterson said the robotics team is considered a class and gives the students an elective credit. That provides some class time, so it is not all being done after school.

“The experience they get from this class can be carried into other fields,” she said.

Graves said people look at the class and think it is all about robots, but that isn’t true.

“It is mostly about teamwork and communication,” she said. “To not communicate is to fail.”

Cade Woolaway, junior, has been on the team since the beginning.

“I will go into some kind of engineering field,” he said. “Probably meteorology. I want a masters or doctorate degree in meteorology, but a minor or bachelor’s degree in engineering or agriculture.”

The robotics class is different, and not many schools around offer it.

“It is very hands-on and we aren’t assigned our roles, we just do what we are naturally good at or interested in,” he said. “I started as a programmer, but now I am more of a builder.

“Communication helps us talk to other teams and handle our interviews at every qualifier.”

In the robotics competition, there are five set factors judges are looking at.

“The First Tech Challenge motto is gracious professionalism,” he said. “They also want to see that we can communicate on the field.”

Additionally, teams also deal with alliance mates, and they never know who will be in their alliance at any given time, so it is important to have open communication with everyone.

“Two teams compete against another two teams,” Woolaway said. “It is more about learning from other teams than it is about winning.

“It is a competition, but it isn’t like a traditional competition.”

The Monett robotics team is one of the teams that Wheaton works with regularly.

“We are working on their 3D printer right now actually,” he said. “They also asked about your notebook skills.”

Graves said the Monett team is junior high, so they mentor them as much as possible.

“We can offer those skills to them,” King said. “And they are very energetic and excited to be there, so that is what we get from them, their energy.”

Peterson said there are so many components to what they do. They want a successful robot, but they also want to make sure they are learning from their mistakes.

“We are the only robotics team in the county,” she said. “We have spoken with a teacher at Southwest who is interested in starting one though.”

The Robodogs were also one of the smallest teams at state. Peterson said most of the teams were from the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. Wheaton and two Springfield schools were the only ones representing southwest Missouri.

“That makes people look at us like we are the underdog,” Wollaway said. “Other teams have a lot more money to spend on new stuff every year, but we use stuff over and over.

“It is an expensive program, but we try not to waste money and instead put it where it is most needed.”

Peterson said the teams tries to make an item before purchasing one.

“We reached out to John Deere Reman last year for sponsorship,” Graves said. “We toured and reached out again this year and spoke with a sales and marketing employee who said he would take it to the board to review.

“They like what we are doing, bringing tech into the community. That is what they are trying to do as well.”

Another part of the competition is the pre-programmed actions.

“The first part of the competition is 30 seconds of pre-programed movements,” Wooloway said.

Peterson said there is a lot of measurements that go into that because the robot has to hit a very specific spot in the arena.

“Overall, teamwork is one of the most important aspects,” she said. “And we have even brought that into the district and gone cross-curriculum with both the agriculture department and in English.”

Glynn Benin, Wheaton high school English teacher, said he asked his students to come up with a project and they are required to write a proposal.

“It had to include a cover letter, title page and summary of the project, as well as an in depth description, and a permission slip signed by a mentor,” he said. “It was helpful for them to get to use their language arts time to work on their notebook.

“I think that is part of why they have such an incredible notebook. I am happy as a language arts teacher that their notebook and other language arts skills are a part of their competition.”

Peterson said STEM is not just about building a robot, it is teaching them sitting skills that they will use after high school.

“They need that experience,” she said. “This is an incredibly hard-working group of kids, and that hard work paid off this year.”

The Wheaton Robodogs encourages other districts to start a First Tech Challenge team.

For more information or to donate to the Wheaton Robodogs, people may visit the school’s home page at www.wheatonschools.org, and click on menu, clubs and organizations, then select STEM.

People may also follow the Robodogs Facebook or Instagram at Wheaton Robodogs FTC Team #11659.

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