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FHS gears up for Robotics

Technological skill, time and hard work are key for Farragut High School students as they build a computerized, ball-kicking robot for a worldwide competition at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., March 4-6.

Looking for a way to connect their niche of students, science teachers Jane Skinner, Kristin Baksa and Matt Milligan along with Jill Hudson, a Career and Technichal Education teacher, attended the robotics meeting at The University of Tennessee and found the connection they needed.

All four teachers continue to give their time week after week to bettering the lives of their students through robotics – meeting daily for two hours after school with the students.

“I love the drive of this group – that they can come and work together. Phenomenal,” Skinner said.

Sophomore Will Clancy said, “It’s a great learning opportunity. How many clubs get to build robots?”

Senior Tavis MacLellan said, “We actually run into real life problems. It’s not easy at all.”

Funny things happen to the students as they try to build a robot from the wheels up. One day, they tried to work on the robot, but the robot wouldn’t move, turn on or respond in any way to the students’ efforts. Finally, it was time to go home.

The next day, they realized someone had pushed the emergency “STOP” button, a mandatory button that shuts down the robot for security reasons. In order for the robot to function again, the entire system had to be re-booted, MacLellan said.

Students program the robot through computer programs such as Wind River, National Instruments Lab View, FRC Driver Station and Workbench 3.0.

“I like that I get to build a robot with my school. Scholarship programs are great too,” freshman Austin Staub said.

In the competition, robots will work on teams of three and play a game similar to soccer. During practice days at the competition, experienced or “senior” teams may choose their teammates.

“It’s not really about winning. The founder wanted to differentiate it from sports,” MacLellan said. “A term they coined is ‘coop-etition,’”

Mentoring is a big aspect for robotics. Webb School of Knoxville has been a part of robotics. A Webb student comes to FHS to share wisdom accumulated from his other experiences with robotics.

“Parent involvement is encouraged,” Baksa said.

“It’s interesting to see the kids that come out for [robotics]. They want to work at it,” Baksa added.

The robot is nowhere near completion. Next, the students will “set up the system to kick the ball,” MacLellan said. Then, “build a mock field and practice. If possible, we’d like to get together with teams in our area before the competition.”

JCPenney in Turkey Creek has been the primary financial supporter of the robotics team, donating $5,500 for the team’s entrance fees through its JCPenney Afterschool Fund. Store manager Tracey Hitson is a graduate of FHS and looks for ways to give back.

“It was perfect for us to adopt Farragut,” Hitson said.

In addition to the $5,500, Hitson vowed to raise $1,000 in additional funds for parts and tools needed to build the robot. Hitson is raising the funds through ways such as a chili cook-off she held with her employees, Friday, Jan. 22.

The official title of the robotics team is JC Penney Farragut High School No. 3140 Robotics Team. Students are working on a logo for the “coop-etition.”

Every student participating in robot construction is invited to attend the convention. Students are responsible for paying their own travel costs.


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