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Kalispell Public Schools
Kalispell, Montana

Two Trophies and 10 Top Three Spots Highlight Technology Student Association’s Performance at Recent Competition

Two Trophies and 10 Top Three Spots Highlight Technology Student Association’s Performance at Recent Competition

   Design and sportsmanship trophies—two of the highest honors you can receive in an engineering/robotics competition—went home with Glacier High School’s Technology Student Association (TSA) this past spring break, along with 10 other top three accolades. Adding honor to accolades: the GHS/TSA robotics team of Carter Pollan, Nate Pilsch, Dawson Wheeler, Nic Hannay and Will McGeary took second overall in the robotics competition.


   The list of events that the club competes in shows the practical, fun and creative components of this weeklong TSA conference, but it was in CO2 Dragster, Late Break Racer, Flight Endurance, Surfing the Internet, Digital Photography, Desktop Publishing and Program Promotion Display that GHS shined. Two first place awards, six second place and two third place awards showed the prowess of this team.

   “Months and months of brainstorming went into this,” Engineering teacher and club advisor Troy Smith explained, “We started preparing back in September.”

   That preparation—along with an eye for design and a knack for programming—paid off in the robotics competition, where the team of Sean Dardis, Paker Shumard, Drew Dickey and Wyatt Weller took home the design trophy. The sportsmanship trophy went to the GHS team of Carter Pollan, Nate Pilsch, Dawson Wheeler, Nic Hannay and Will McGeary. Of the four trophies available in the competition—GHS took home half of them.  

     For Smith, it was the sportsmanship trophy that shows the heart of his team—and the spirit of engineering styled competitions. The honor is voted on by all participating teams. Competitors for this award are judged on their willingness to help each other out and their general sportsmanship. It’s an ethos that runs throughout engineering and is anchored by a commitment to the power of good ideas.

   “Teams help each other out in this competition. You would think we wouldn’t do that because it’s a competition but we want to teach each other. You get this award because you help each other learn,” Smith explained, adding that GHS ability in computer programming sealed the deal for this award, “We are one of the few schools that excel in computer programming and so we help a lot of the smaller schools perfect their programming for each robot.”

   That cooperative spirit shows up in the final round.

   “The team that loses is excited for the team that won. You see teams high fiving each other at the end,” Smith observed, “Because it is cool to see the robots perform so well. It’s ideas. We can take ideas from what we saw there and imitate.”

   This engineering ethic of taking the best ideas, incorporating them into each other and making them your own is what fuels the months of brainstorming for the team, “If something works you copy it, you make it your own. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time in robotics.” Explained Mr. Smith.

   If the sportsmanship trophy is the soul of the TSA competition, then the design trophy is the heart of robotics—revealing the real-world scenarios that are applied in these competitions. The TSA robotics portion is run by VEX, and so parts are reusable, in limited supply and standardized. Eliminated teams’ robotic pieces and parts are of often pilfered and incorporated into the robots that advance to the competition. Robots enter a square ring and compete one-on-one within the strictures of the game rules. This year the game involves moving objects onto the opponent’s side of the field. Objects are shaped in various sizes from year to year. This year, stars and cubes were used. As added points to this year’s robot game—a climbing pole gave 12 points to whatever robot could go up it.

   “It’s like an advanced erector set with electronics. The mechanisms are the same as are in the real world.” Smith explained.

  Ultimately, form follows function. And it was that criteria that won the GHS team the design award. The competition starts with the robot in an 18” cube—the first 15 seconds of the competition the robot moves on its own—or rather how it is programmed. After that, it is a driver controlled match.

   “Our team won the design award because of structural integrity and use of sensors—it was smooth and used a scissor lift. It had excellent gear ratios and we thoroughly used sensors to protect parts and give the robot information about where it was. A robot isn’t so different from a human. It works best when it knows what is around it and sensors allow a robot to know that,” Troy Smith observed.

   While robots and robotics are what ignite this team’s passions, the conference also featured a Balsa wood CO2 dragster that was powered by a paintball gun cylinder (Glacier’s Alex Wright placed second in this category) and a flight endurance category that harnesses student’s understanding of aerospace engineering (thanks to GHS instructor Jason Thomas) by testing which kit based but student modified plane flies for the longest (approximately 10 – 15 seconds.) The team of Ryan Williams and Ethan Sapp took home the silver for their plane.

   The Late Break Racer category featured another student modified kit, GHS students Ryan Williams (who took second) and Lauren Vornbrock (who took third) shined in this category which blends modification and data collection. Competitors must learn exactly how their car operates and on competition day, when a judge asks them to “make the car go 8.4 feet” the winner is whomever can coax that exactness on demand. The event is one of Smith’s favorites—because kids must learn to measure and collect data on their individual cars to get an exact result.

   “I love the Late Break Racer event. It teaches kids why data collection is important,” Smith declared.

   Glacier being the three time defending champions in the Program Promotion Display took home their fourth title with the winning team of Alex Wright, Will McGeary, Tyler Judd, Dalton Marcum and AJ Weller, all club officers, proving that careful reading is often the better part of competition glory.

  “We win this award every year because we do exactly what they ask us to do. We meet the constraints of the competition,” Smith observed.

   Tyler Judd also took home the first place in digital photography category. Teammate Alex Wright took the second spot in digital photography. That duo had a busy competition—taking home second in desktop publishing for their recruitment brochures for TSA club members.

    The final top three performance came in the ever-popular category: Surfing the Net. Teammates Robert Hurly and Will McGeary navigated 22 questions faster and more accurately than all but one of the competitors.

   Next year’s game theme will be announced this month—and students are already back in their workspace, re-engineering off what they saw this year.

   “They are already tinkering,” Smith said, “I have to kick them out every night at 6:30 or they would stay there all night.”

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