Homeschool robotics team shines at competition
The Metro Homeschool robotics team logged 500 hours this year.
The team, comprised of students from Shawnee, Olathe, Blue Springs, Kansas City, Lee’s Summit, Independence and Pleasant Hill, put the time to good use.
They competed in two robotics tournaments this year; BEST in Saint Louis and FIRST in Kansas City.
Sharon Mehl, mother of two homeschooled boys, said the robotics team was a great way to get the family involved.
“It’s hard to get a family of five involved in things with boys from ages 13 to 20,” she said.
For the Mehls the robotics team was a family effort. Sons Brian, a seventh-grader, and Tony, a freshman, competed as members of the team. Oldest son, Scott acted as a mentor for the team. In high school he competed on the Shawnee Mission Northwest robotics team. Sharon served as photographer, while dad Steve also mentored the group.
Seventeen homeschooled students competed in the BEST competition in St. Louis., Sharon said.
In September, the team traveled to St. Louis to find out about the competitions theme and to collect the kits for building the robot.
After returning the team had six weeks to build their robot.
“The interesting thing about BEST is that it doesn’t cost anything,” Scott said. “It’s free with sponsors.”
BEST features two competitions, the robotics game and the BEST Award. The BEST Award is presented to the team that best embodies the concept of Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology. Elements include a project summary notebook, oral presentation, table display and spirit and sportsmanship.
Sharon said BEST is a teacher’s dream.
“They are learning things they will use in the real world,” she said.
The team places first for BEST Award and second in robot, winning a spot at regionals in Fort Smith, Ark.
At regionals the team placed 19th out of 40 teams and 9th in BEST Award.
The team also received second place Founder’s Award for excellence in the use of the engineering process in consideration of offensive and defensive capabilities in machine design.
The team returned home and began work for the FIRST competition in Kansas City.
FIRST comes with a $6,000 registration and parts fee.
The team was able to participate with the help of sponsors DST Systems, Door Systems, DeVry University, The Lock Box, Sprint, Jim and Jane Walker, Prepress Graphics Professionals and BAE Systems, as well as a FIRST scholarship, Sharon said.
Eleven students participated in FIRST with the Metro Homeschool team.
“The biggest difference is the money,” Sharon said.
However, Scott said the technology jump is huge from BEST to FIRST.
“In BEST you are working with up to four motors and one robot control,” he said. “In FIRST you use top of the line materials. Some of the best and fastest speed controls out there.”
The 2009 Greater Kansas City Regional competition was held at Hale Arena.
“It was really chaotic,” Tony said.
After qualifying rounds the team was chosen to create an alliance with two other teams for the following rounds.
“The Vomitron”, their robot, help the alliance receive the second place alliance finalist award.
Brian was chosen by the team to help drive the robot.
“It was hard because there are two other people in your alliance trying to be helpful,” he said. “You have to have a strategy. The fact that we won made it feel like we can di it really good.”
Now with the robotics competition season over the team will focus on preparing for next year by raising funds.
“We are meeting every other week to talk about goals,” Sharon said. “Our first is fundraising and our second goal is training for next year.”
The team will host a garage sale in April and sell robotic bugs, Sharon said.
The team will also participate in the CowTown Throwdown, a local exhibition using the same game as the FIRST competition.