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Lady’s Island Middle School Robotics

story by Lane Leopard   photos by Paul Nurnberg

“At bottom, robotics is about us. It is the discipline of emulating our lives, of wondering how we work.” 

– Rod Grupen

Big things are happening at Lady’s Island Middle school, with the help of their robotics team and teacher Mike Rentz. Last season, the robotics team, “The Janitors,” were the first robotics team from Beaufort County to compete in the VEX VRC World Robotics Championship.  They were one of 160 middle schools from around the world invited to the event.

     Engineering and Computer Science teacher, Mike Rentz, heads up the robotics program at Lady’s Island Middle. His undergraduate is from the US Naval Academy and his MBA is from Boston University. Rentz is  a Master Teacher for the for ‘Project Lead the Way,’ a national STEM curriculum and has been teaching PLTW’s Gateway Program at Lady’s Island for 8 years.

     When asked what sparked his interest in robotics and starting the team at the Lady’s Island Middle School, he replied, “One of the biggest issues our students face, and educators face, is the lack of real world problem solving in regular school curriculum.  Our students are taught, in educational silos, the 4 core subjects but very rarely get an opportunity to use those skills in solving real world problems.  I see robotics as a way to bring in real world problem solving in a competitive educational environment that is student centered.  Since our first VEX competition, I’ve been hooked.  When you attend a VEX tournament, no one ever leaves wondering how we can get fewer students involved.”

      Currently Rentz coaches three VEX Robotics teams at Lady’s Island Middle. Team “Legends” is five eighth graders, James Dennison, Jacob Krebs, Tate Shetzer, Jonah Forrestall and James Stone. Aready winning two Excellence Awards and a Tournament Championship, they have qualified for the US Open and for the Palmetto State Championship.

     Team “Metalmorphasis” is five seventh graders. “Metalmorphasis” has won a Robot Skills Challenge Award and an Excellence Award, as well as qualifying for the US Open and for the Palmetto State Championship. They are Michael Dennison, Carson Geier, Tyson Adkins, Blake Burns and Riley Kelly.

     And robotics is not just for the boys, “The Mighty Pushers” is Lady’s Island Middle Schools all girl team. The three seventh graders competing are Abigail Henry, Lily Ellis and Mackenzie McMahon.

     Robotics isn’t just about the fun and games. The robotics program helps create young adults who represent themselves well. The students apply the mechanical and computer science problem solving techniques to real world problems.

     “I think, in Beaufort, that there is the misconception that we don’t create students who can operate in a high tech environment.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Spending 5 minutes with a robotics team will change that perception” Rentz says.

     Building a functioning robot is no easy task. Each robot the teams build has to be able to move, have a lift system, and have the ability to interact with scoring objects. Then every robot has to be programmed to be controlled. The students create their codes from scratch based on what they want the robot to do. The robots have to be able to perform in two part matches, an “autonomous period,” and a driver controlled period.

     Every robot at Lady Island’s Middle School is completely designed and built by the students. Mr. Rentz’s role is that of an advisor, there to assist with technicalities, and as a sound board for ideas. The students spend hours researching before ever starting the building process. They are constantly testing and finding solutions, working to improve the robots.

     For now, Mr. Rentz volunteers his time spent with the team, which limits the amount of students that can participate. With Beaufort lacking major engineering or tech firms, finding the business partners to team up with and sponsor the team can be tough. They compete from teams that are in places like Charleston, Greenville and Columbia, which are funded at a much higher level than the Lady’s Island Middle School team. They haven’t let that slow them down yet.

     The team will be hosting a large tournament at Lady’s Island Middle School in January with close to 50 robotics teams from across the state competing.  Between now and then, they will continue to improve their robots, practice, and compete in other robotics events.

     Every competition the team faces is an opportunity to improve their robots, and reach the ultimate goal of qualifying for the VEX World Championships that will take place in April.  The State Tournament is in March and will give the three teams a chance to qualify for VEX Worlds. The season ends in April with a trip to Iowa for the CREATE US Open VEX Robotics Championship and hopefully a return trip VEX Worlds.

      If you have interest in learning more about robotics at Lady’s Island and how you can be involved, Rentz invites you to come and visit the school and see the students.

Team Legends and Team Metalmophasis are qualified for the

US Robotics Open

These young students are seeking sponsors to help pay their travel expenses to Iowa for this competition.  Anyone interested in sponsoring these young men should contact Mike Rentz at Lady’s Island Middle School. (843)322-3100 or michael.rentz@beaufort.k12.sc.us

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