Onalaska high schools have added a fourth “R” to the reading, ’ritin’ and ’rithmatic courses; they also offer robotics as one of their extra-curricular activities.
This is the sixth year Onalaska Luther High School has had a competitive robotics team, the igKnightion, and the program has grown over the years to its current 32 members. Onalaska High School’s robotics team, Topperbotics, is entering its fourth competition season and has about 20 students participating.
Both Onalaska high schools are members of the 7 Rivers Robotics Coalition and compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) challenge. This year’s competition is to design, program and operate robots to “feed a steam boiler” fuel ( in the form of plastic balls) and deliver gears to an “air ship” to create a complete gear train before the air ship takes off. The final task before the match comes to an end is to have the robot climb a rope up to the platform on the air ship.
The teams accepting the FIRST challenge receive a kit containing components for the robot and information about the challenge Jan. 7. All teams have six weeks to complete their “bots” in time for their first scrimmage. Luther has hosted scrimmages in the past, but this year’s first scrimmage will be held at Caledonia High School the weekend of Feb. 19.
“The robot has to be completely finished in six weeks,” said Berkley Harle, a member of the igKnightion team who specializes in marketing. “It can’t be changed; you can only fix a broken piece.”
The building process needs to take into consideration the robot’s size limit set by the FIRST organization while still incorporating components adequate to the tasks the machine will be programmed to perform.
“You build whatever you think the best design will be to win the game,” said igKnightion build team captain Brian Shepeck.
As part of the strategy, the build team and programmers also consider how to create a fobot that will earn the most points.
“The gears will get more points,” said Shepeck, “and the robot has to have enough power to get up the rope.”
The OHS team has been working to build on past skills and has set a goal of creating a more complex and professional looking end product each year.
“This year we have very strong senior leadership, and although the challenge is great, I am confident in our team’s ability to tackle this game,” said Jesse Fredrick, robotics team adviser and OHS technology director.
Last year, the OHS team finished in the bottom third of teams at the Milwaukee regional competition. Fredrick said he believes the team’s standing at competitions isn’t the objective of taking part in the exercise.
“We want to do the best we can, and the place we finish is secondary to learning and being proud of the product we have created as a team,” said Fredrick.
Fredrick, along with a few mentors, guide the students but what is designed and created is fully based on what the students achieve.
“Our team is set up so that it is student led and directed,” said Fredrick. “Some teams have coaches and mentors who are more heavily involved, but our philosophy is that this is a student club. The students learn how to operate in a large group, share ideas, accept critiques and collaborate to complete a single project.”
He said he feels having the students do the work and create the actual product gives team members a greater sense of ownership.
“The members of this team are very committed, and I feel that the way our team is run has something to do with that,” said Fredrick. “I allow the students ownership; they are the ones in charge. Students in general seem to not have a ton of choices, generally parents/teachers/coaches tell them what to do. I want to provide opportunities for them to make the crucial decisions and live with the decisions made.”
Along with building the robot and developing teamwork, the FIRST competition also involves marketing the team and fundraising to cover the costs of supplies and traveling to competitions.
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