Murphy Middle School is Victorious at Robotics Tournament

Murphy Middle School is Victorious at Robotics Tournament

A few members of the MMS robotics team celebrate after the victory. (From left) Nic Coooper, Alexa Houle, Team Sponsor Colleen Feil, Lexi Pietrasik, Justin Simms and Dasan Harris.

Murphy Middle School’s robotics team was awarded first place at the North Texas FTC (FIRST TECH Challenge) Qualifying Tournament held at Greenhill School in Addison on Jan. 12.  The Murphy Middle School (MMS) team beat 24 teams, 23 of which were high school and/or senior high teams. There was only one other middle school team in the competition besides Murphy Middle School.

Each year, FTC tournaments are centered on a theme. This year, since it is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, all FTC competitions pertained to the moon. Colleen Feil has been a teacher at MMS since the school opened 16 years ago. She teaches numerous technology and math classes and is also the robotics team sponsor. She explained this year’s tournament challenge, “The robot had to deploy from the Lunar Lander and move minerals from a crater, then it had to attach itself to the Lunar Lander and raise itself.”

“Murphy”, the MMS robot, weighs approximately 20 pounds and is made of metal extrusions, gears and chains. An expansion hub provides the interface which allows the robot to function. For the first 30 seconds of the contest, the robot must move autonomously and must be programmed to do so. After the first 30 seconds, the drivers pick up their remotes and maneuver the robot through the arena.

Through a combination of grant money and supplies from Plano ISD, MMS robotics team was able to build a simulation arena in their classroom. The robotics team meets once a week after school at MMS. Feil said the simulation arena was a very valuable tool during this process.

Feil said she sponsors this team because she loves to see the students grow as a team. She said the most exciting part of the contest was watching the students overcome glitches with the robot and rally to win.

Justin Simms (7th grade) is the team captain. He attributes his interest in robotics to his older brother, “I watched my brother when he started doing robotics and I thought it was cool. I knew I wanted to build something like that!” When he realized that MMS were the victors of the tournament he said, “I felt excited because our team had beat teams from high schools and senior highs.”

Aarav Lakdawala (7th grade) is the lead builder. He became interested in robotics when he saw all the robots his father had built at work. He said, “I enjoy coding and building.” He was the point recorder, he said, “I was counting our points and they were adding up quickly.” Because of a prior commitment, he had to leave the tournament early. He said, “It was a big cliffhanger. I didn’t know until Monday if we had won or not.”

MMS robotics team during their weekly, after school meeting. (Front row, from left) Lexi Pietrasik holding the first place trophy and Justin Simms holding “Murphy”. (Back row, from left)

MMS robotics team during their weekly, after school meeting. (Front row, from left) Lexi Pietrasik holding the first place trophy and Justin Simms holding “Murphy”. (Back row, from left)

Lexi Pietrasik (8th grade) and Natalie Gillum (7th grade) both say that their interest in Legos ® and attending technology camps were the reasons they joined the robotics team. Pietrasik said the most exciting part of the tournament was, “Seeing the other teams’ robots. I was surprised that simplicity really does win. Other teams had complex designs; ours just pushed spheres and cubes with license plates.”

Rayan Inamdar (7th grade) and Nagaraj Veerappan (7th grade) both cited the fact that they enjoy building things as the reason they joined the robotics team.

Dasan Harris (8th grade) said when his mother took him to work with her he was told about FTC and that he would be able to join a robotics team in middle school.

Alexa Houle (7th grade) knew she wanted to join a robotics team ever since she watched her sister participate on a robotics team. She said, “I enjoy building and seeing how a team comes together to make something amazing happen.”

The team will continue to practice with their robot at their weekly, after-school meetings as they prepare for the regional competition to be held at Wylie East High School on Feb. 23. Feil said that after the competition season is over, the team wants to invite the rest of the student body at MMS to come and learn about robotics.

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