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Jefferson Middle School Team Places First in Oklahoma Robotics Competition

Posted April 11, 2023, 3:35 PM. Updated August 23, 2023, 2:32 PM.

National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair held earlier this month.

The central question of the experiment was simple enough: Who would fare better in a disc-throwing contest, man or machine?

The man in this case was actually 20 Jefferson Middle School students. The machine was a robot built by Jefferson Middle School students.

The afterschool project took Jefferson Middle School students on a journey – all the way to Stillwater Oklahoma where the budding engineers won first place in the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair on April 1. They won in the Robotics/Intelligent Machine in Engineering category.

The team was ecstatic.

“As a teacher, my main goal is to seek opportunities for my students where they work and apply what they are capable of,” said Jay Penn, the robotics coordinator who worked with the team on the project. “You’ll be surprised what they can do as they take on the challenge.”

The students hypothesized that their classmates would outperform the robot they outfitted with a flywheel launching mechanism and spent months building. They were right. Their classmates had a 54% success rate compared to the robot, which was successful just 34% of the time.

Along the way, eighth graders Harold Rogers and Jaylie Bradford, and Seventh grader Lucas Hatch learned that the robot’s performance declined when the battery level was less than 70% and the motors’ continuous use caused them to heat up and spin at a lower speed.

“These insights could inform the design and development of more effective and efficient robotic systems, as well as, help human workers improve their skills and performance in a range of settings,” the students wrote in their abstract.

Rogers and Bradford attended the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair, held at Oklahoma State University. Layla Perry, another Jefferson Middle School student, also attended the fair and presented her project titled “Nasty Pollution.” They were the only participants from Albuquerque this year, but interest in the program is expected to grow as word spreads.

Members of the Robot Jets team spent 4 ½ months after school building their robot, writing the abstract, and organizing the project board.

“A variety of iterations were done on the intake mechanism and the flywheel launching mechanism before the Jets team decided to write and test and finalized the codes in February,” Penn said.

He noted that the trip to Oklahoma was a first-time experience flying and competing for the APS students who went and a parent chaperone. Students were given a tour of the university’s Science and Engineering Departments during the three-day trip.

Participating in the fair “gave our Native American students opportunities to excel, and experience as competitors in the field of Science and Engineering,” Penn said. “Most of these students are quiet and shy in class, and they tend not to actively volunteer in class discussions. But when given the chance and opportunities available to them with guidance, they are determined to work hard to the best of their ability.”