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Area students clamor around Jordan High’s award-winning robot at Stemfest

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Area elementary and middle school students take part in Jordan High’s robotic demonstration at Stemfest, which was held at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

While small groups steadily attended Orbital ATF, iWorlds, Microsoft and other booths at Stemfest, packs of students crowded around Jordan High School’s robot.

Jordan High, which in its inaugural year last season won the FIRST Utah regional robotics contest and in April took part at the world competition, was demonstrating how the robot, named “Beetbot” — affectionately after the school’s mascot — was programmed to move as younger students took aim with plastic balls to try to make a basket in the tub that it was carrying.

“We’re trying to teach the kids about FIRST Robotics and how much fun it can be,” team president Nicole Brooks said at Stemfest, which was held Oct. 3-4 at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center. “Joining FIRST was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Brooks’ journey began in ninth grade when her aunt, Annie Drennan, invited her to be on a team — the Jedi — she was co-coaching with Michelle Estrada.

“I invited her because I had seen that she was patient and took good notes for her classes at school,” Drennan said. “I already knew that she was a fabulous artist. She wasn’t sure she would be any good at it, but was willing to try. What I didn’t know was just how great she would be. She was patient, persistent and methodical in her programming. She was a huge benefit in designing because she could imagine things and then draw them out to demonstrate her ideas and work out the details.”

That team won the state FIRST Lego League title and competed at world competition where in the robotics game, they finished 12th.

Brooks said she learned how to approach both the robot and the project the team was working on with persistence.

“I learned how to approach it with consistency even though we failed over and over. We worked together as a team and had fun along the way,” she said.

Since that initial year, Brooks has used the same approach with her high school teams.

“She’s always been hardworking which has helped a lot, and I’ve really seen her grow in her ability to lead and work with others,” Drennan said.

Brooks joined Hillcrest High School in her sophomore year since Jordan High didn’t have a robotics team. That year, the team won the Creativity Award for a “robot design that was developed outside the box” at the regional contest.

Last year, with adviser Cameo Lutz on board, she began an all-rookie team called the Gravediggers at Jordan High, which not only won the Utah regional title in March, but also competed at the World Festival.

“We have a good team, and often we stay until late working on something because something always goes wrong. We work together to figure it out and deal with the problems as they come up,” she said.

At Stemfest, Brooks and her teammates answered students’ and parents’ questions about FIRST, how the electronics board works and how to get involved. She also explained last year’s mission, “Steamworks,” and told students that everyone on the team had a part in the mission, which included programming their robot to climb aboard a hovering airship to being able to lob “fuel cells” (in the form of balls) into a mock steam boiler.

“We had students who could come on certain days or for certain amount of time and we worked it out so everyone who really wanted to be on the team was able to contribute and work toward our goal,” she said about the 30-member team.

Now the robotics team is offered as a class at Jordan, and Brooks said a core 15 people enrolled work together to learn CAD, strategize programming and building, learn how to use power tools and how to wire and brainstorm together. At the same time, they are creating a curriculum so the team will remain a class for the future.

“We have returning students teaching younger students and cross training so everyone will have the knowledge and can step in to help anywhere,” she said.

Jordan High’s team plans to compete at two regional-qualifying tournaments. This year’s mission will be available Jan. 6; they plan to collaborate and work with local teams such as Waterford, Hillcrest, Alta and others as well as the High Rollers from Las Vegas, whom they teamed up with at regionals.

In the meantime, Lutz said the team has made other appearances, such as programming the robot to use a pair of golden scissors to cut the ribbon for the STEM Action Center’s STEM bus and a game of “Capture the Flag” with other high schools where the robot participates.

Brooks also said the high school team will continue to help mentor other teams and talk to middle schools about creating FIRST Lego League teams.

“I tell students that they don’t have to have experience. If they’re willing to learn, work hard and want to have fun, then they make the best team members,” she said. “It’s the same for us. We’re hoping to win, but we have a lot more focus on having fun and learning things.”  

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