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By Alex Ross 

Box Elder Bots on their way to Billings competition

 

April 7, 2016

Havre Daily News/Alex Ross

Box Elder High School students Alexcia Eaglemen, from left, Carson Walksoverice and Chance LaMere, along with Alex Jones, a service member with the AmeriCorps Energy Corps program, build a robot Wednesday at the school. They are competing in the VEX Robotics Nothing But Net Challenge. They will be presenting their robot Sunday at the Montana TSA State VEX Robotics Event at the Montana Pavilion in Billings.

For six months the Box Elder Bots have been getting together twice a week to design, assemble and transform a box of wires and metal parts into a functioning robot.

The Bots are a group of six high school students at Box Elder School, who, with the guidance of their group mentor Alex Jones, an AmeriCorps service member with the organization's Energy Corps, are competing in this year's VEX Robotics Nothing But Net Challenge.

Montana State University-Northern and the Chippewa Cree Cultural Preservation Department are sponsors of the group.

The Nothing But Net Challenge is an engineering challenge each year issued in the form of a game. Jones said the challenge this year is to build a robot, which does not exceed 18 inches in height, that can pick up a foam ball 18 inches in diameter and shoot it into a basket.

One of the team members will control or teleoperate the robot using a device that looks like a video game remote controller. The person staffing the controller will have 20 seconds to shoot the ball into the net.

Jones said that this Sunday they, along with teams from about six other high schools throughout the state, will attend the Montana Technology Student Association State VEX Robotics Event at the Montana Pavilion in Billings.

The top three winners this Sunday will get to represent Montana at the national finals in Texas.

The competition is intended to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM skills.

Jones said STEM activities are important because they allow students to apply material taught in the classroom that might otherwise be seen as inapplicable to their lives into an activity that is hand on and as fun as it is challenging.

"So they are able to apply the STEM skills that they are learning in their math and science classes and actually getting to see an outcome," Jones said.

Jones said that the idea for a club came from her boss, Jessica Alcorn-Windy Boy, director of the Bio-Energy Center at MSU-Northern, who had wanted to start a high school robotics class.

She said she began looking at high schools to start such a club, and Box Elder School was the first to get back to her

Students were then encouraged to sign up for the group.

Jones said it was the first time she and the three students had built or worked with robots.

Carson Walksoverice, a senior at Box Elder, said a demonstration of a robot from Montana State University in Bozeman that came to their school aroused their interest.

"It was sick because it danced," Walksoverice said.

That was early in the school year, and Jones came along to start the group soonthereafter. Then in October the group was born.

They joined for a series of different reasons, Jones said. Walksoverice for example hopes to one day be a journalist, but this could help him with critical thinking skills.

He also said that he is not all that interested in athletics and this gave him something interesting to do.

Chance LaMere, a senior and member of the Bots, said they began the design process by watching videos of former VEX competitors to get some general ideas of what the robot should look like. They then each sketched out some ideas.

Northern then provided the Bots with parts for the project, Jones said.

By far, the students said, getting the gears to work was the most challenging part.

After the competition, Jones said that the Bots will put on a demonstration of their robot at the Little River Institute Indigenous Education Conference April 28 and 29 at Northern.

And throughout it, the experience of working together has not only sharpened their skills but brought the students together. When they first met, Jones said, she had trouble even getting them to interact with each other.

"It's fun," she said. "It's been a really great experience watching them grow because when I first came in we had this box of parts, and we had no idea what any of us were doing and so the fact that they have made this robot when we started at literally nothing is really awesome."

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