March 1, 2013

Bishop Chatard team will compete in national robotics championship

Bishop Chatard High School students Joe Bormann, left, Jacob Mack, Courtney Thompson and Robert Dooley work on one of the robots that their team built for the Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis on Jan. 19-20. Four teams from Catholic schools in the archdiocese finished in the top 10 at the competition. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Bishop Chatard High School students Joe Bormann, left, Jacob Mack, Courtney Thompson and Robert Dooley work on one of the robots that their team built for the Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis on Jan. 19-20. Four teams from Catholic schools in the archdiocese finished in the top 10 at the competition. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

As he prepared his teams for the first-ever competition in Indianapolis, Andy Mundell adopted the approach that many good teachers take.

He wanted his high school students to build their confidence as they tried to do something most of them had never done previously.

He stressed that making mistakes and learning from them are crucial parts of the learning process.

He also hoped that the experience would spark a flame in them that would possibly lead to a continued interest in college and maybe even a career.

Oh yeah, he also had another goal:

“I wanted them to have fun,” Mundell said.

The coach never focused on how the teams from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis would finish in the first Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Jan. 19-20.

“I just kept congratulating them on what they had already accomplished—that they had built a robot, they had started something new, and they would represent the school well,” said Mundell, who teaches physics at the archdiocesan interparochial high school for the Indianapolis North Deanery.

Of the 40 teams that participated in the competition, the two teams from Bishop Chatard placed third and fifth in the event that was hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Indianapolis to fuel students’ involvement in the areas of math, science, technology and engineering.

The success of the Bishop Chatard teams reflected the overall achievement of Catholic high schools in Indianapolis in the competition as the robotic teams from Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School—sixth place—and Roncalli High School—10th place—also placed in the top 10.

Teams from Cathedral High School and Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School also participated.

Bishop Chatard’s third-place-finishing team also won the competition’s Amaze Award, given to the team with an “amazing, well-rounded and top performing robot.” That team also qualified for the U.S. National VEX Robotics Championship on March 7-9 in Ralston, Neb.

“It’s such an accomplishment to build these robots,” Mundell noted. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind since we started in October.”

That’s when VEX Robotics provided the kits that team members had to assemble into a robot. Students then had to program and prepare the robot for a competition that involved directing the robot in a series of tasks.

Mundell gave the credit to the teams’ members, saying, “It’s a lot of trial and error on their part. It really didn’t take much more than pointing them in the right direction and asking them to think critically about it.”

The teams’ members enjoyed the different approach to learning.

“In the classroom, all the equations work out perfectly,” said Deegan Atha, a Bishop Chatard senior and a robotics team captain. “Here, you have to try different things. You might have an idea, and then there’s a problem. So you have to keep going back and checking your progress.”

Junior Eric Rohrbach was one of the few students on the Bishop Chatard teams who had previous experience in working with robots.

“When I heard Chatard was going to have a team, I thought it would be fun,” said Eric, who is also a team captain. “I thought we could be competitive, but I wasn’t expecting us to be good enough to make it to the finals.”

The national championships will be another “great learning opportunity” for the students, Mundell said.

“It should be a lot of fun,” he said. “We’ve already had so much positive reaction from other students, parents and teachers. It’s a huge boost for the program going forward. I’m just very proud of them.” †

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