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Building Robotics Reputation

While many school students slept in orenjoyed Saturday morning cartoons on Dec. 3, a group of sixth- andseventh-graders from Enterprise Attendance Center traveled toHattiesburg to compete against 45 teams from around the state inthe FIRST LEGO League Mississippi Competition.

    Two teams, the Jacket Incepticons and the Meat Grinders,represented Enterprise. Kevin McKone, an instructor atCopiah-Lincoln Community College, was a mentor for the JacketIncepticons while the Meat Grinders were mentored by WendyCawthorn, a science teacher at Bogue Chitto, and Luke Hendrick, aparent.

    Each year, the competition is centered around a theme, and thisyear’s theme was food safety. Each group researched a particularissue in food safety and developed a solution. The Meat Grinderschose to address general infections caused by meats, such assalmonella, and the Jacket Incepticons created a solution to theColorado Listeria outbreak.

    This was only one third of the competition, though.

    The students were also required to build and program a robot, whichwas able to complete a series of missions. All the missions werealso based on food safety and ranged from picking up pollution toturning thermometers. The robots were judged by how many missionsthey could complete in a two and a half minute time period on aplaying field. Each robot had three chances, and the judges tookthe top score.

    “The kids do all the work, all the programming, and all the timethey put in is just phenomenal,” McKone said.

    During the many hours of work, a practice playing field wasconstructed to test the robot. He said the students would programthe robot, and, when it did not work, the students would have toadapt the programming code.

    “That’s how it is in engineering,” McKone said. “You keep modifyinguntil it works.”

    He said the mentors stay away from the work as much as possiblebecause, during the competition, the students are asked questionsto determine how much work they actually did themselves.

    Both teams placed in the top five of this portion of thecompetition and the Jacket Incepticons placed first in thesubcategory of programming. McKone said they won the award due tothe light sensors installed on the robot, which allowed the robotto know where it was on the playing field.

    “The judges said they were blown away by how well the robot usedthe light sensors,” he said.

    The final portion of the competition was gracious professionalism,or the team-working capabilities of the group.

    McKone said the members had to participate in high-stress teamcompetition so the judges could see how well they worked aspartners. The teams were also partially graded on how willing theywere to help other teams in trouble.

    McKone said the program benefits the students in two major ways:they learn the importance of hard work and to enjoy science.

    “Success is hard work, and I think they realize that if you want tocompete and do well, it takes hard work,” he said.

    McKone said during the competition, the judges will dress sillywith crazy ties and bright-colored clothes.

    “(The competition) is a really neat way to get kids excited aboutscience,” he said.

    McKone said all the time and effort pays off when the students getinvolved in the intensity of the competition and begin to cheer andyell.

    “I’m extremely proud of those kids,” he said.

    McKone said he thinks the program will continue at Enterprise aswell as expand to other schools in the county. He said next yearthere will likely be a team from Bogue Chitto, and he is currentlytalking to Loyd Star Attendance Center.

    “It will get some friendly competition going between the schools,”he said.

    The statewide competition is run by Robotics Alliance ofMississippi. For more information about the competition or RAM,visit ramrobots.org.