Friday, January 8, 2021

WHS Robotics Team takes second in Thomas College Virtual Challenge

Members of Windham High School's Robotics Team are,
from left, Victoria Lin, Pyper Harris, Dillon Foley, Waylon
McDonald, and Julian Howard. The team will be participating
in further robotics competitions at Thomas College later
this month. SUBMITTED PHOTO 
By Elizabeth Richards

In an unusual year, the Windham High School Robotics Team is taking on new challenges and learning new skills.  Recently, three of the five members of the team participated in the Thomas College Coding and Innovation challenge. Their entry tied for second place.

Windham High School Computer/Tech teacher Michelle Lane, who started the Robotics Team at WHS last year, made a last-minute decision to sign them up for the challenge, which was to recreate a children’s book using building and coding in Minecraft. Team members Victoria Lin, Pyper Harris and Julian Howard chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and dove into the challenge. 

Their video had to be created in one week, and the three did not have prior experience coding in Minecraft. They met the challenge head on, working together, despite technical difficulties, to put the project together. 

Harris said that server problems prevented her from joining the game with Lin and Howard.  The students ended up working on their own pieces of the story and Lin edited it together using iMovie to create their video submission.

One of the biggest challenges, Lin said, was that they had a lot of work to do in very little time.

This was the first time the team had participated in this kind of challenge, and each member came out of the experience having learned something.  Though Harris said the technical issues prevented her from learning how to code due to time constraints, she said she learned how to use Minecraft better through this experience.

“I think I’ve learned a bit about how we can use the coding blocks in a very different kind of way,”
Howard said.

He said he was able to look at how the process of block coding, where, lines of code are put into blocks that can be stacked into a program, can change between different engines or software. 

“[It is] very interesting, how one can take a concept and shift it into something new with a new environment,” Howard said.

Lin said being able to code made the repetitive building much easier than having to do it all manually.

Having a limited amount of time to work with made the experience stressful, Harris said. 

“I think we would have been able to do better if we had more time,” she said.  

Howard said he was shocked that they tied for second place.

“We had a lot of technical issues, but we somehow did very good, and I’m proud of that, even if the result was shocking,” he said.

The team is part of VEX VRC Robotics. The season looks different this year, but Lane said she has been able to get pieces so they can begin building their robot for this year’s game. 

There will be virtual competitions that the team can participate in, Lane said.

“It’s more individual than it was but hopefully we’ll be able to start doing something by the end of January,” she said.

Traditionally, Thomas College has offered an in-person overnight challenge called the Thomas Cup.  This year, there are several smaller virtual challenges, free and open to all high school students in teams of three to five. 

At the end of January, they’ll hold the “Thomas Cup in a Box,” a 12-hour virtual event that consists of all the challenges. Teams can choose a twelve-hour block, either 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. in which to participate, according to the Thomas College website.

Lane said the team also participated in the CSI Challenge, getting an honorable mention.  They will do the Esports challenge in early January, and probably participate in the Robotics challenge as well, she said.

She’d also like them to participate in the “Thomas Cup in a Box” event at the end of January.

Team members said that they are interested in participating in challenges like this again now that they have some experience.

I feel like there was a lot of missed opportunity to delve more into the code to create something more,” Howard said.

Lin agreed.

“It was a great learning experience,” she said, “and a nice thing to do when we’re stuck at home.” <

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