Students at iSchool High STEM in Lewisville have turned school into a high stakes, high-tech game where they will pit their robot against other schools in the region. Saturday October 24, they will learn whether their robot can out-mine the competition at the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics competition at Prosper High School.
While they know their robot has to retrieve an assortment of golf balls, aluminum foil and other objects, they will not know the specifics of the competition until they enter the pit on game day. This means the business, marketing, and record keeping side of the game are as important as the robot’s performance.
Senior Justin Pool manages the robot team; junior Jiyah Starks heads marketing, and senior Alexander Middleton documents everything done related to the project in the official notebook.
“I think the beauty of a group project is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. It means you can tackle a much bigger project with a bigger scope. I know nothing about marketing, but I know a lot about building robots. I know nothing about notebooks, but he knows a lot about notebooks. They can tackle the parts that they are best at,” said Justin.
The BEST Robotics game is the major project of the semester and involves every student of iSchool High STEM in some aspect. The core team of 16 high school students and 16 middle school and elementary students were given six weeks to plan a strategy, design a robot, build a robot, create a marketing strategy, fundraise, find sponsors, create a formal presentation, record all information and build an exhibition. With only six weeks to complete the project, the core team has learned to outsource elements of the project to the school as a whole.
No teacher direction is allowed. Their only job is to ensure safety. Equipped with the game manual, the three lead students meet with their teams to plan a strategy to win the game.
While marketing and building a robot might initially seem unrelated, the students have come to understand the project in terms of running a business that builds robots.
“I had to teach one of the middle schoolers how to make a budget. We went through how you price everything out, decide what materials you need, work out what it is going to cost you, and decide how much money you still need to raise,” said Jiyah.
Every aspect of the game from marketing to operating the robot can gain the team points and the students worked together to strategically choose the aspects that would gain them the most points. Each project manager read the game manual, explained to their team the point system, and created a strategy.
School director Johannes Brooks-Starks explained the BEST award is won by points rather than by the performance of the robot, which means the different teams need to work together to maximize the whole team’s potential.
“The marketing team knows you can win BEST with a robot that works, but isn’t perfect. If you win BEST, then it buys the robotics team two more weeks to perfect the robot before they go to the next round. The points the marketing team earns can buy the robotics team time to get to the next round,” said Mrs. Starks.
Not only are the high school students learning teamwork and using technology such as a 3D printer, they are also setting an example for the middle school and elementary school students.
“I like that they are mentoring the younger kids. The younger kids aren’t just sitting and watching. The high school students explain why they are doing something. They help them with marketing, teach them how to build a website, build a marketing campaign, program and use the technology.” said Mrs. Starks.
While his role is limited to making sure the students are safe, engineering teacher Gary Wilhelmi said the program is designed to teach the students about the team dynamics through a real world project.
“There are a lot of human dynamics involved. How you market? How do you advertise? How do you build school spirit? How do you get four busses full of kids to spend their Saturday at the competition? This is a massive undertaking in a very short period of time,” said Mr. Wilhelmi.
He has witnessed the students face the real world problems seen in industry and believes the experience will give them an advantage when they are seeking employment.
“The kids I used to recruit out of college didn’t know how to work in teams, how to think or solve problems. These students are more equipped now than the recent college graduates I would hire,” said Mr. Wilhelmi.
Encouraged by their experience, the students are determined to take nothing less than second place at the BEST competition this year.
“We are coming from obscurity, but our vision is to be known as that school that you have to beat,” said Mr. Wilhelmi.