In my last post, I mentioned that next week I shall be headed to Kansas City for two of my students to participate in the national Skills USA competition. Here’s a bit more back story on that, including how you can help make it happen.
The Robotics and Automation Technology contest (scroll down on this page for contest description) is based on students’ facility with the Scorbot ER4U robot arm, including planning how to use the arm to accomplish a task, setting up an industrial work cell including the arm and a variety of peripheral equipment that will interface with the robotic arm’s control box (linear slidebase, conveyor belt, multi-colored lights, switches, pneumatic feeder), teaching the robot all positions necessary for the task, and writing a program that will control the robot and perform the desired task.
Because this is an extension of skills learned in my Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) class, and because we have the Scorbot ER4U (though not all the peripherals) in my classroom, this is a perfect contest for my students to be involved in. However, doing well in this contest does involve the skills to be held at a deeper level that is beyond the scope of a one-semester CIM course. For example, it requires a deeper understanding of loops, variables, subroutines, and use of inputs/outputs than we get to in CIM. It also involves more general engineering skills, like creating a good plan and program efficiency, that need to be honed over many hours of practice.
This year, I spoke to my current CIM students (juniors in our engineering program), as well as those who had taken CIM last year, and invited them to form a team for the Skills USA competition. Bhola (senior) and Abhishek (junior) signed up. We started holding weekly practice sessions in December, which have continued from December through June.
On March 1st, we headed to Baltimore City Community College for the regional contest, only to be told after we got there that it was cancelled. Still, the students got to experience a new type of robotic arm. Also, they got to pose in front of BCCC’s flag circle, including the Nepali flag (the blue and red one with an edge like a ‘W’).
On April 26th, we hosted (in my classroom) our competitors for the state title. (If there are fewer than three teams competing, we arrange the date and location amongst ourselves.) After a very full day, with each team getting several hours working on the arm, Bhola and Abhishek were declared the state champions. They (and I) were excited — this meant they could go on to the national level!
However, over the weeks to follow, we were told that the school did not have the money ($7000) to send them to nationals, and then, that the school district office did not have the money either. After being turned down by these two sources, it looked like we weren’t going to be able to make it to Kansas City.
Hearing that we couldn’t afford the $7000 cost, I started trying to break that cost down and see where savings might be possible. For example, since I’m no stranger to long road trips and since driving to Kansas City would save about $1600 off our travel costs, I figured driving was the way to go.
The same day that I was working out a cost breakdown to see if we might still be able to go after all, I was contacted by some community partners who wanted to know what they could do to help make this opportunity happen. Over the weeks to follow, we managed to beg some money out of my school and district (even though neither could afford the full amount). And the students applied for the mikeroweWORKS Foundation Travel Scholarship that will help defray our travel costs.
So here we are! We’ve raised the majority of the money needed through all the sources mentioned above. But more is needed to pay for hotel costs, gasoline, meals, and student Skills USA uniforms. We’ve started an indiegogo campaign to help raise the remainder – a big thanks to Bill Westerman for organizing this via indiegogo, as well as to everyone who has donated so far!
If you can donate $15, $25, or $50, that would really help. This is an amazing opportunity for the students to represent Patterson High School, Project Lead the Way, Baltimore City, and the state of Maryland at the national level, and show that Baltimore is more than just the Wire 🙂 .