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Tennessee looking to Cherokee robotics class as example for state

March 13th, 2014 6:00 am by Jeff Bobo

Tennessee looking to Cherokee robotics class as example for state

Contributed photo

ROGERSVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Education will be looking at Cherokee High School's robotics class as it develops a high school robotics curriculum for use across the state.

At the same time, the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) in both Morristown and Surgoinsville are looking to align their own programs with the Cherokee class so that students can make a seamless transition into the TCAT program after high school graduation.

The goal is to train students for the industrial jobs of the present and future, but it's also turning out to be quite a bit of fun for students.

In fact, the program's origins trace back to Cherokee's Robotics Club, which built robots from the ground up and entered them in competitions over the previous two school years.

Cherokee High School launched the state's first robotics class in the 2013-14 school year.

Area industries had already been supportive of the club when interest was expressed in adding the robotics class. To create the class, several area industries contributed equipment as well as instructors to assist the class' regular teacher.

The school also received a $64,000 grant from the Niswonger Foundation to purchase four industrial "trainer" robots.

Wayland Seaton — the Hawkins County Schools CTE (career technical education) director — updated the County Commission's Education Committee on the new robotics class last week. He said four instructors from area industries will be assisting Cherokee's robotics teacher for the next eight weeks.

Another eight engineers from Baldor, Mahle, Cooper Standard, Barrette Enterprises, Odello and TRW have been meeting weekly with Cherokee Vice Principal Bobby Edens to develop the curriculum. Edens has shepherded the program since the club was founded two years ago.

"The state is going to look at Cherokee's curriculum and see if it's appropriate for its use," Seaton said. "The state is going to add robotics to its curriculum next fall.

"The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) is very much interested in this project," Seaton added. "They're looking at including robotics into their programs (in Surgoinsville and Morristown), so we're going to align what we're doing at Cherokee with the technology center so the students can take the classes at Cherokee and then move on into that program (at TCAT)."

The newly completed Cherokee student robot will be entered in the FIRST Robotics Competition in Knoxville at the end of the month. The new robot, which took about six weeks to complete, picks up and throws oversized dodge balls through a hoop.

"This is not a kit," Seaton said. "This was built entirely at Cherokee High School from just pieces and things they put together. The engineers were part of it, but the students did the construction."

Assistant Director of Schools Steve Starnes told the committee the students receive their robot specifications from the competition in January, and they have six weeks to build the robot to those specifications using approved materials.

"This is actually the third year that they'll be competing in Knoxville at the FIRST Robotics Competition," Starnes said. "They placed real well the first year. They had to shoot a basketball the first year, they had to throw Frisbees last year, and there's also a climbing component."

Committee member Danny Alvis, who retired from Baldor, said he recognized the names of several instructors teaching Cherokee's class, and he said the students are in good hands.

"The kids who go through this program will have a heads-up when they apply for a job at Baldor, TRW, Mahle — because they're all using robotics on their manufacturing lines," Alvis said. "Someone has to program them, and someone has to work on them, and someone has to operate them. There's some good jobs out there."

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