So-Kno Robo, South-Doyle High School’s robotics team, returned from the FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston with a winning robot and an energized perspective to encourage STEM in South Knoxville.
Often referred to as “Worlds,” the FIRST Robotics Competition welcomes over 600 teams from across the globe to compete in a robotics game.
FIRST releases the game guidelines to the participating teams in January, and the teams have until mid-March to design and build their robots before regional competitions begin.
This year, the game called for the robots to move cones from the floor onto poles and inflatable cubes onto wooden boxes. Several teams crafted robots with arms or elevators to lift and place the game pieces, but So-Kno Robo thought outside the box.
“What we figured out really early is that we could be really consistent if we launch it,” said engineering teacher and So-Kno Robo sponsor Kathleen DeVinney.
This spark of ingenuity led the team to win the Creativity Award in their division at Worlds and a nickname around the competition: the Cube Experts.
While the team performed well at the competition, DeVinney’s favorite moment of the trip had nothing to do with robots.
“They have this block party and seeing the kids have so much fun with kids from a completely different team from across the country was a moment like, it’s more than just robots,” she said. “It’s the connections that these kids get to build with these other people that they’ve never met before that are just like them.”
DeVinney hopes that the success of the team invigorates the students and the South Knoxville community around robotics and STEM.
So-Kno Robo has been involved with nearby schools to mentor their LEGO Leagues, an international robotics group for elementary and middle school students. They also attend the schools’ STEM nights to show off their robots to create interest in robotics. The involvement and exposure at an early age will prepare them for robotics when they enter high school, DeVinney said.
She also believes more students at South-Doyle will be inspired by their peers and find an interest in robotics.
“We have a lot of diverse kids here, so this gives them the opportunity that they maybe never would’ve had to get them excited for STEM and engineering and wanting to keep going with it,” DeVinney said.
Watch videos of their FIRST Robotics Competition matches and more information on their season here.
A project that aims to save energy and improve lighting for Knox County students is making a visible difference at high schools across the county.
Earlier this year, the Board of Education approved a proposal from Trane Technologies to convert school lighting to LED technology, using new and retrofitted fixtures. The $26.1 million project is fully self-funded through guaranteed utility and operational savings, and will replace existing lighting in classrooms, parking lots and other settings.
Perhaps the highest-profile change has come at athletic fields. Replacement lighting has now been installed at most of the district’s stadiums, and has not only resulted in improved visibility, but also provides additional features to promote school spirit.
Unlike traditional stadium lights which need to warm up, the LED system can be turned on and off immediately. The new system can also provide light-show style displays with multiple colors and patterns.
Clark Duncan, football coach and athletic director at South-Doyle High School, said the quality of the Trane system was immediately noticeable, especially compared to the previous system.
“There were times on our field that there were dark spots, at times it wasn’t lit well enough,” Duncan said. “We were told that the new system was going to be like daytime, and oh my gosh, it’s just like daytime. It’s like noon at nine o’clock. It’s amazing how well you can see.”
At South-Doyle, School Security Officer Michael Cain has worked with student leaders who asked to implement a light show after the third quarter of football games. With approval from administrators, students pick a song that is played as part of the display.
Cain said student attendance has risen this year, adding that “To me it makes Friday nights even better.”
Ultimately, of course, the lighting project is all about reducing energy consumption and providing savings for schools across the district — even on the football field.
Zane Foraker, energy manager for Knox County Schools, said that instead of turning stadium lights on several hours before a game, coaches can now wait until they’re needed. After games, they can be automated to turn off at midnight. Most important, he said, is the cost savings from lower energy use.
“This is paid for with the energy savings. So over the term of the contract Knox County is not spending any money on these, they pay for themselves.”
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