SELBYVILLE – NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed two men on the moon in July of 1969.
A robotics team from Selbyville Middle School is hoping their Apollo 11 lands them more honors in the VEX Worlds competition in Louisville, KY over spring break.
Apollo 11 is the name of the steel robot built by sixth graders Kaitlyn Johnson and Evan Carpenter and seventh grader Kendall Coleman.
“Because it was the first rocket that went to the moon, we figured we would try to be first, too,” said Kendall.
The team’s name is The Rocketeers.
Team slogan is: “We are out of this world.” “That was my idea,” said Evan.
The Rocketeers earned a trip to the VEX World Finals April 19-22 by having garnered “Excellence” honors at state competition held in March at Wesley College in Dover. Skills, scoring and design, which includes a professional engineering notebook or journal, factor in judging to determine the Excellence award and the bid to world competition.
Jon Casto, a tech education teacher at Selbyville Middle School, and Tommie Morrison, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher are the coaches.
“It’s all done by the kids. Ms. Morrison and I we are here mainly as coordinators of everything, to motivate them, add some enthusiasm and take care of paperwork. But in the end, it totally comes down to the kids as far as how it is designed,” said Mr. Casto.
Building and practice time was in October through December., Competitions commenced in January, with several local and regional-level events leading up to the state event.
Starting from scratch with no blueprints, the students assembled an initial clawbot robot, which then became a scissor-lift and ultimately Apollo 11 – a scooper lift robot.
“We changed from the scissor lift to a scoop lift,” said Evan.
“You had nothing except the knowings of what the competition is. We went from that. We came up with different ideas. We’ve actually had throughout the school year three ideas,” said Kaitlyn. “We have had some technical difficulties. But that’s OK. It’s just makes us work harder to find out what went wrong and fix it.”
Perhaps amazingly, their scooper-lift robot was created in less than one day. “It was built in four hours,” beamed Kendall.
Up against the clock, competition entails knocking foam-like stars from a plastic fence and maneuvering a large foamy cube from one side of the fence to the other.
Student modifications to Apollo 11 include a cradle that holds the cubes. “It makes them more accurate and precise,” said Kaitlyn. “We have added on different things.”
Like the pioneering moon launch in 1969, this robotic Apollo 11 may be a first in the First State.
“As far as we know we are the only team in the middle school division in the state of Delaware that can lift the cube, put it in there and get it over the fence before the time is up,” Kendall said.
Interest in Selbyville Middle School’s after-school robotics program continues to rise.
“We started our application process in September. In past years, we’ve had maybe 20 to 25 applicants. This year we had almost 80 applicants. Then we narrowed it down to 16 students, which gave us four teams,” said Mr. Casto. “Pretty much October through December is all build time and practice times. Then January starts the competitions around the state. After their first competition, they get to see kind of what works and what doesn’t. They have a few weeks to make some changes and then head to the next competition. Generally, we have two or three regional competitions within the state. In March, we have our big state competition where you get to win the bid.”
“What is interesting about this team is when they went to their first competition they were not in first place; maybe fifth or sixth,” said Mr. Casto. “It is kind of amazing to be able to start out that way and two months later you rise to the top, making all of the changes and improvements that were needed.”
In recent years, the school has annually had teams qualify for world competition. In fact, Kendall and Kaitlyn went to the world event last year.
Along for the ride are parents: Cookie Coleman, Scott Carpenter and Rebecca Johnson. They, along with students and Mr. Casto will drive to Kentucky for the event at the Louisville Expo Center. Ms. Morrison plans to fly.
“I kind of call myself Team Mom. I bring some snacks along and kind of help out,” said Ms. Coleman. “Rebecca, Scott and I have been doing behind-the-scenes kind of fundraising for the team, anything to help out. This is my second year going. It’s pretty exciting to meet all of the kids from around the world.”
News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at email@example.com