Promoting BEST Education

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two teams of students in Lincoln County arecompeting in a statewide robotics competition for the firsttime.

    The national program is called BEST, or Boosting Engineering,Science and Technology, and is facilitated by Mississippi StateUniversity, the host site of the competition.

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    Science teachers from Enterprise and West Lincoln attendancecenters will head teams of students in grades eight-12 to representtheir respective schools.

    “I think it’s going to be a good experience,” Enterprise teacherBecki Wright said. “The students will have an edge on 21st centuryrobotics. This is going to be a learning experience for sure.”

    Linda Franklin will lead the team from West Lincoln.

    MSU Director of Educational Outreach Eric Heiselt explained theorigins and rules of the competition.

    “BEST was started almost 20 years ago by two Texas Instrumentengineers in Dallas,” he said. “They wanted to increase engineeringinterest in kids that wasn’t going to cost a lot of money.”

    Heiselt said the more popular robotics educational competitionsaround the country can cost as much as $2,500 a year just inmaterials.

    “What makes us different is we don’t charge schools anything,” heexplained. “We provide all the materials they need and there’s noregistration fee. The only cost may come from travel expenses.”

    For the last five years, MSU has been the only “hub” for thecompetition in the state, but Heiselt said hopes the University ofSouthern Mississippi will be a location for next year.

    “There are 48 hubs around the country, and participating highschools and middle schools choose which ones they want to go to,”he said.

    Because sponsors and the university pay for the competition, 20 isthe maximum number of schools that can be allowed to compete atthis point, according to Heiselt.

    Enterprise and West Lincoln have seen local support for theirinvolvement in the competition.

    “We’re going to be helping with some of the funding for the trip(to Starkville),” said Dustin Walker of State Bank in Brookhaven.”Kids are the future, and anything we can do to help them advanceand succeed we want to do.”     Walker, president of the LincolnCounty alumni association for MSU, said people in the areainterested in assisting with funds can contact State Bank.

    Heiselt said the competition is very cross-curricular and not justdriven toward science and engineering.

    “On Sept. 17, teams received their materials (for assembly) andsoftware to create everything virtually before cutting a singlepiece, to see if their ideas will actually work,” he said.

    Students also received instructions, rules and point systeminformation on the competition. The performance of their robots isto be “task-specific.”

    The types of materials used in the past have included pvc-pipe,plywood, various types of nuts, screws and bolts, and a set ofmotors and controllers. Every team receives the same materials.

    For a language arts tie-in, the students will be keeping a “technotebook” to log their ideas and document the process as it goesalong.

    Teams also have to develop a mock company to sell their robots.

    “There will be vendor booths, like at a conference,” Heiselt said.”Kids have to be able to speak to judges about how their company ororganization is run. They have to establish CFOs, CEOs and COOs andbasically sell their company and their product.”

    In a more formal marketing presentation, students will have topresent their product in a boardroom setting.

    “Kids are also invited to make a website for their team,” Heiseltsaid. “There’s also a T-shirt contest. So it’s verycross-curricular and ties in all the kids. Not just science kids,but marketing and creative kids as well.”

    Teams have until the end of October to have their robots built andcompanies organized. The state competition will take place Oct. 28and 29 at MSU, and the team that wins at the state level will havethe opportunity to go to the regional competition at AuburnUniversity in December.

    Kenny Goza, Mississippi Scholars chairman, said he thinks thechance for students to be involved in such a unique competition isgood for educational growth in the area.

    “It’s the first time ever we’re involved in this,” Goza said.”We’ll have students from both West Lincoln and Enterprise. I thinkit’s a great opportunity.”