CMA Robotics – Lessons Learned from a Coach’s Perspective By Maria Crowe

Late September 2014, I registered our USFIRST robotics team. Because our school is in its first year, there were no team members, money, robotics lab, tools, parts, and, most of all, no knowledge or experience in managing a robotics team. All I had was a vision of a competition-ready robotics team for the 2015 season.

Our regional director, LJ Robinson, convinced me that starting a team was really possible. She quickly connected me to people and teams in the area that could answer questions and guide our team. Mark Buckner and Sydney Buckner, both USFIRST Regional Representatives, provided fast answers to many questions.

Lesson #1 – Seek expertise from those who can help you succeed. From the very beginning, you will need mentors outside of your own team.

Weekly informational robotics meetings and a parent meeting brought together the first few student members. Weekly meetings were focused on communicating USFIRST values and guidelines on “Gracious Professionalism” and safety. We built excitement by showing USFIRST videos of past competitions. Oak Ridge High School visited our school with their robots to give reality to our vision.

Lesson #2 – Communicate USFIRST expectations and guidelines from the very start, and review these expectations frequently.

Lesson #3 – Motivate team by showing them examples of success.

In developing our business plan, it became clear we needed to organize our team into specific departments. Team members decided what area they were most interested in: engineering, programming, and business/marketing. We identified those students with leadership potential for the manager positions. All leadership roles required a demonstration of a good work ethic and people skills, as well as a willingness to dedicate time and service to the team. Sometimes, a student realized they had a greater desire or skill to work in a different department, so we allowed for some changes in team roles.

Lesson #4 – Organize team into specific jobs early. Identify team leaders and modify roles as necessary in case of attrition or the discovery of special skills.

The amount of money needed to build a USFIRST robotics team is very intimidating and finding sponsors was critical to our success. The best marketing ideas came from other USFIRST teams in the area. They willingly shared how they raised enough funds to compete year after year. Taking advantage of grants, like the USFIRST Rookie Grant, was critical. We had to pursue every opportunity to fund our team’s needs.

Lesson #5 – Seeking sponsorships is a priority. Get help from other USFIRST teams and your regional director immediately. Stay alert for any opportunities for funding, such as grants.

We prepared for Kick-off and the build season by asking other teams in the area what types of tools and parts we would need. We also set up a workspace and communicated “build season” time commitments to the team and school administration. During “build season”, we took advantage of every opportunity to get help building our robot. We attended “quick build” sessions at kick-off and found a mentor team that allowed us to work alongside them once a week (Oak Ridge Wildbots, Team #4265). We connected each team member with a mentor in the same role on the experienced robotics team, so they could quickly get answers to questions.

Lesson #6 – Find a mentor team that can help guide you in pre-season preparations and build season activities. Work in a shared space with your mentor team at least once a week for guidance and support.

Lesson #7 – Keep good communication through out the season with school administrators, coaches, parents, students, and other robotics teams.

As a coach, it was important for me to allow the student team members to learn from making decisions and doing the hands-on work. However, it was just as important to stay involved in day-to-day decisions, so that I could offer guidance or resolve conflicts. From the very beginning, we expected that our rookie year would be very challenging. It was important to take a realistic look at difficult situations and do the very best with the resources and support we had to work with.

Lesson #8 – Keep a positive outlook in spite of conflicts and challenging circumstances. Expect difficulties to arise, and accept that growing into a successful USFIRST Robotics team is a long-term process. Set new goals by reflecting on the past season and focus on making the next year better than the last.

Here are some pictures from our most recent robotics exhibition at South Knox Elementary School:





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Intake Day 2015!

Saturday, May 2nd and Tuesday, May 5th were CMA’s intake days for rising freshmen and their parents. This year we had over 180 students from all over Knox County apply to the Career Magnet Academy, and over the course of our intake days we finally got to meet nearly all of the 125 lucky scholars who were accepted. Our new scholars received CMA T-Shirts and had a chance to check out their new digs.

We are also excited about our upcoming Ice Cream Social on Tuesday, May 12th where our new CMA Scholars will get a chance to meet and mingle. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to check out our official Twitter page @CMA_Official, and don’t forget to #cmasquad when you tweet something positive about our school!


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CMA Wolfbots and the First Robotics Competition!

We are especially proud this year of Mrs. Maria Crowe and her ALL-FRESHMEN Rookie Robotics Team! Not only was Mrs. Crowe able to secure support and funding in a short time for a team that did not exist last year, but she was able to coach them to a 25th place finish overall and 3rd place finish among the rookie teams.

If you are not familiar with robotics, it is not unusual for a rookie team to struggle just to get their robot to pass inspection and get out on the floor to compete. Our CMA Wolfbots breezed through their inspection before lunch and had enough time to get in a practice session, tweak the robot, and get out on the floor again before the conclusion of the opening day of the competition.

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Magnet Schools of America National Conference

On Friday, April 24th, four members of the CMA leadership team had an opportunity to present at the MSA National Conference. We shared how we use student ambassadors to recruit new students, nurture relationships with the private sector, and establish a positive school climate and culture. Our presentation was well attended and well received, especially for a Friday afternoon!

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Recruiting Next Year’s Class!

Because of a winter storm that resulted in ten straight snow days for Knox County Schools, our transfer window was extended through the month of February. At the close of the window last year, we had about 75 students apply for CMA. This year, we are proud to announce that we had over 140 students apply to CMA as their first choice and over 180 apply overall. We are among the first magnet schools in Knox County to go into a lottery at the end of our first year of service. We credit this largely to our student ambassadors who worked tirelessly on the recruiting trail–visiting each middle school in the county, working open houses, guiding school tours, ambushing social media, and generally representing our school in way that attracts the kind of students who will benefit from and contribute to our school the most! CMA ambassadors, you’re the greatest!

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CMA’s Winter Formal

On Friday, February 6th,  our CMA family came together to put on a winter formal. Mrs. Shinlever, our Biology and College & Career Readiness teacher, worked with a group dedicated parents to put together a lovely evening of food, fun, and festivity! While some say the highlight of the evening was getting to see our principal, Mr. Faulconer, bust a move, I maintain that watching some of our faculty and staff dance the YMCA made it all worthwhile.

Mrs. Shinlever with Mr. & Mrs. Key who provided our DJ and Mrs. McCarter, a dedicated and involved parent.

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