‘I’m tickled to death’

There is something about interviewing students and teachers that brings a new kind of excitement over me. I interviewed a teacher at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough, Tenn. last week regarding a robotics team that brought two rivalry high schools together. His excitement was contagious.

This particular subject always grabs my attention, due to a team I wrote about on Pine Island, FL. while I was the editor for the Pine Island Eagle. It’s amazing what these kids do when they work together as a team.

Boone, Crockett students team up to manufacture the perfect robot

Published Feb. 25, 2014

With their robot stored safely away, students of David Crockett and Daniel Boone High Schools are focusing on final preparations for the First Robotics Competition.

Guy McAmis, drafting instructor at David Crockett High School, said the group kicked off this year’s First Robotics Competition at the University of Tennessee on Jan. 4.

A collaboration of 12 students from Daniel Boone High School and 12 students from David Crockett High School make up the team that began forming last year.

“It was open to all students that wanted to come into the First Robotics Team,” McAmis said. “We have two rival schools that have come together to build a robot.”

Sophomore student Ethan Riddle of David Crockett High School got involved by joining the programming team when it first formed with three other students. He said he has enjoyed his experience of working on the robot, as well as learning about programming.

Last fall, McAmis traveled to Cherokee High School with the team to help that school’s First Robotics Team get a better understanding of the competition.

“On the bus trip back, our students came up with the (name) Musket Alliance,” he said. “They did it as a team effort.”

After the team was formed, a corporation was created with a CEO and board, on which McAmis sits, as does David Shell from Daniel Boone High School.

When the rookie team traveled to the University of Tennessee last month, they were required to execute a robot quick build from a kit that was provided to them. The kit was equipped with such basics as the frame, a set of wheels and all the electronics.

“It comes with enough to make a running robot out of the box,” McAmis said. “All the extras we had to buy separately.”

Fundraising efforts started last year when McAmis told his students he would shave his mustache if they raised $2,000 by the end of the football season. The students were successful.

Several companies also made donations to the team, so they could purchase additional parts. Those include S.E.A.M.S. LLC; Grainger, Fastenal; Valley Equipment of Jonesborough; United Grinding; Eastman Chemical Co. and Energy Systems Group, LLC.

When the students began putting together their robot last month, they decided it would defend the field to make it difficult for another team to score. Riddle said the robot defends the goal with its lift that can be raised and arm that extends outwards.

This year, the robots have to shoot a 24-inch exercise ball through a hoop to score points. Riddle said their idea is to get the exercise ball in either the high goal that is around 7 feet in the air or into two low goals.

“Our robot is also  defending against other teams,” he said.

The students clocked between 60 to 75 hours after school working on their robot from Jan. 4 to Feb. 18 before it was ready to  “bag and tag” for the competition.

“It was a lot of fun working with the kids,” McAmis said. “They did the design and drawing. We sat back and watched them.”

He said the students know how to put the robot together and take it apart on their own.

“I’m tickled to death,” McAmis said. “They jumped in there.”

Six students worked on building the robot. The work was done at David Crockett High School due to the availability of the machine shop to build parts. A playing field was set up at Daniel Boone High School for practice.

Mitchell Roop, a teacher at David Crockett High School helped the students with programming, which included a trip to Eastman Chemical Co.

Riddle said the classes they attended at Eastman Chemical Co. were really helpful in programming the robot.

“Learning how to do (the programing) is a rewarding thing,” Riddle said.

Although the build team, electric team and programming team are no longer allowed to work on the robot, there is still plenty to do to get ready for the competition.

McAmis said the rules and safety team have a lot to do to prepare.

“I think we did well,” McAmis said about the students building the robot. “It’s been a great experience.”

Ten of the Washington County 5022 Musket Alliance team members will head to the Knoxville Convention Center March 26-29 to compete in the FRC regionals.

“I would love for people of Washington County to come and watch,” McAmis said.

On Friday, March, 28, the Musket Alliance will be paired with other teams as they try and score points. Five students are allowed in the pit area during the competition. The remaining students will scout the other teams to see whom they want to be aligned with for Saturday’s competition, March 29.

Riddle said his programming team will be located in the driver’s station at the competition.

The station has two joysticks and a computer. He will operate the computer and make adjustments to the robot if necessary.

Riddle said he is excited about going to the competition.

“It’s been enjoyable, but it has been a lot of work for myself and David Shell over at Boone,” McAmis said.

With that said, he thinks they will probably try and keep the FRC team going next year.

‘One purpose, One mission, One passion’

Here is a feel good story that I wrote for the Herald & Tribune about teachers in the Washington County Department of Education receiving grants totalling $20,000. A special ceremony was held for them last week, which gave them all an opportunity to share how they will utilize the grant money in their classroom to further the education of their students.  

Innovative teachers receive Quest awards

Published Jan. 21, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

Seven grants totalling $20,000 were given to teachers of the Washington County Department of Education last week during a special ceremony sponsored by the Quest Foundation.

Quest Foundation President James Harlan told the recipients that it was a privilege to be there on behalf of the foundation.

“We have just one purpose, one mission, one passion, that is to enhance education and learning in Washington County schools,” Harlan said. “We do that at the classroom level.”

The Quest Foundation has made grants to 21 classrooms in 10 schools over the last three years for more than $64,000. Last Wednesday, it added another $20,000 to the foundation’s grant total.

“The last three years have been a journey for Quest,” Harlan said. “Over $84,000 has been put back in our schools to start that lifetime of learning.”

He went on to say that it is rewarding to put that amount of money back in classrooms.

“That’s the kind of good news that makes this community, this city, a place where it is fun to live,” Harlan said. “We live in a very generous area. We care about other people and care about children.”

The foundation provides grant money for programs and materials that are otherwise unavailable to Washington County teachers. Harlan said the board looks for innovative ideas to enhance preschool to 12th-grade curriculum with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harlan said for most educators at the ceremony, being a teacher was all they ever wanted to do.

“Education is the thing that fundamentally differentiates the United States from the rest of the world,” he said. “We have, in the United States, a lot of things against us in terms of being competitive in the world. One thing that levels the playing field is education. That starts right here in Washington County.”

Harlan recalled a fond memory of when he was in third grade and a teacher who sparked his interest and made learning fun.

“Learning to read is fundamental to what these teachers are communicating to their students and what becomes a lifetime of learning,” he said.

Grant recipients included: Robert St. John and David Yates from David Crockett High School who received $1,774 for their project “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

The grant money will help the teachers purchase an aerial photography system that will be integrated between the media and CAD department, as well as the biology department.

Cindy McAvoy, a 6th- grade math teacher at Lamar School, received $1,709 for her project “Parents as Learning Partners – Partnerships Today that Create Success Tomorrow.”

McAvoy said many parents have shared their concern about wanting to help their children with their math, but the parents do not know how. Thanks to the grant, she will now be able to offer a workshop that provides ideas and ways for parents to support their children.

Rachel Horn and Mike Taylor of Daniel Boone High School received $3,600 for their project “Improving Student Learning with 21st Century Data-Collection Technology.” The teachers teach AP physics and physical science.

Horn said the grant will allow them to buy lab equipment for students to craft data in real time during their experiments in physics.

Twana McKinney and the David Crockett High School science department received $4,727 for the project “Technology and Common Core.”

McKinney said they will also receive equipment that will provide real-time data for students to use as evidence for reference in writing skills.

Penny Elliot Lowe, a 5th-grade math teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $4,500 for her project “Addressing the Learning Gap in Mathematics using iPads.”

She said she did not have an iPad until last year and was amazed with what it could do. Lowe said she saw many opportunities for using the iPad in the classroom.

“(I can) use the iPads as another way to have a deep engagement with what we are doing in mathematics,” she said, adding that students can develop their own math presentations.

Kristie Payne, a third- grade teacher at Fall Branch Elementary, received $1,689 for her project “I want to be a Mathematician.”

She said the grant will fund iPads for her students, which will allow them the opportunity to develop key mathematical concepts through the use of technology. Payne said there are many apps that help students take concrete mathematical applications and apply them abstractly.

Jackie Mumpower, a 3rd- grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $2,000 for her project “Transforming 21st Century Education through Laptops.”

She said her students will use the laptops to create PowerPoint presentations. Harlan said the amount of grants they are not able to fully fund is the reason the foundation continues to raise money.