Lee's Summit Journal

These homeschooled kids build impressive success (and robots) together

Metro Homeschool Robotics (MHR) team member, Ethan Auch, 15, of Independence, inspected a robot Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at Lutheran High School in Kansas City. MHR qualified for the the Frontier Trails BEST Regional Championship in December.
Metro Homeschool Robotics (MHR) team member, Ethan Auch, 15, of Independence, inspected a robot Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at Lutheran High School in Kansas City. MHR qualified for the the Frontier Trails BEST Regional Championship in December. Special to the Journal

At 3 years old, some built, took apart, and rebuilt elaborate Lego machinery.

At age 5, one built a 12-speed car transmission, took it apart, and put it back together — again and again.

At 7 and 8, others deconstructed household appliances, put them back together, and then started over again — just for the fun of it.

These children are now teenagers and members of the award-winning Metro Homeschool Robotics (MHR) team.

From building with Legos to building their futures, building is a central theme in their lives, work, and education.

Although they still take things apart and rebuild them, this committed group of student-partners now bring their talents, vision, and STEAM curriculum studies to the world of robotics and its limitless possibility for invention.

“These students have a vision in their head and they want to create,” said Lettie Becker, MHR communications coordinator. “They take things apart and their minds are always working to create new ideas.”

MHR students also recently brought their vision and inventions to real-life application through participation in the BEST Robotics, Inc., national robotics competitions. BEST stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.

To compete in these events, students are challenged to design and build a functioning, competitive game robot in six weeks. As part of the event, participants also compete in many other areas, including technical writing, educational exhibit design, computer-aided drafting as well as website design, video production, and more.

In mid-October, the MHR BEST team, comprised of 38 students from across the metro area, ages 11 to 18, swept first place at the 2017 River Valley BEST Robotics Hub Competition held at the University of Arkansas.

By beating 15 other BEST teams from three states at the competition, the MHR team qualified for the Frontier Trails BEST Regional Championship in December.

While still not even legally adults, many of the winning robotics team’s members already have invested more than a decade of their lives in robotics study, practice, and application.

Daniel Barbosa, 14, of Leawood, and George Horsey, 17, of Lee’s Summit, both discovered an interest in STEAM at 3 years old and found Lego to be the best medium to delve in and discover how to tangibly express their ideas.

“To some people, a pile of Legos can look like a pile of junk,” said Horsey, the MHR team lead. “I can look at that pile and I want to create something out of it. With robotics, you have raw materials like Lego and you can take that pile and build something out of it. It’s like a pile of something that you turn into something.”

For the MHR team, that “pile of something” includes a vast array of tools from physical to virtual.

Building robots and winning competitions, like the BEST events, takes a team skilled in everything from hands-on construction to computer programming, team management and scheduling, graphic design, marketing, publicity, and more.

MHR teams have been winning robotics competitions for years and, after each win, they go back to the drawing board and take their project to the next level in order to stay competitive and advance.

During this process, the team plans and executes modification after modification in nearly every area of the project.

With their eyes on their current competition as well as the future of robotics, many MHR students have plans for STEAM careers.

As a child, Dirk Becker, 17, of Lee’s Summit, built remote-controlled machinery with his uncle, while simultaneously creating projects with Bionicle Lego.

Two years ago, he built his first computer from the ground up.

Today, Becker contributes his experience and skill to the hardware side of MHR robotic projects.

“Robotics have limitless possibilities for the imagination,” Dirk Becker said. “I’m driven by the digital electronic side and want to be a computer hardware engineer.”

A multi-layered experience, MHR students not only study and practice robotics, but they also learn more about themselves.

“I program robots on the team,” said Zach Lotz, 17, of Spring Hill. “But, I have to meet deadlines and I need deadlines to complete the projects. Being here also helps me to learn to work with people better.”

For Josiah Sanders, 15, of Lee’s Summit, the MHR experience also has been a personal discovery process.

“I like to be hands-on, but here I’ve also learned to be a leader,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about leadership and want to be a leader in the future — a hands-on leader.”

Another MHR team member, Garret Wise, 17, of Independence, also discovered he likes to be hands on.

“MHR is where I found out I like building with wood,” said Wise, who will begin carpenter training next fall. “Robotics led me to my carpenter interests. I love building and seeing things come together. I can’t wait to be a carpenter.”

Horsey, like all of his MHR teammates, is excited by the future.

“What we do here today are building blocks for the future,” he said.