• Competitive robotics at Jefferson Middle School 

    Coach:  Ms. Kate McKenzie kmckenzie@cpsk12.org

                Teacher page - about me/my classes

    Asst. Coach:  Mr. John Gerskin


    Changes for 2020-21

    This year,  competitive robotics will be a fall STEAM class -- LEGO Robotics. Students who would normally want to participate in after school FLL robotics are invited to join this class for the first 9 weeks of school.  We may continue it for the second 9 weeks, or start again with a new group, if there is enough interest.  This is a Pass/Fail class that will be filled based on interest.  Full participation is expected.

    LEGO Robotics STEAM Class
    This class will use LEGO EV3 robots and the FIRST LEGO League competitive team program to teach mechanical systems, programming, strategy, teamwork, and collaborative problem solving.  Students will work together to build and program  autonomous robots to complete tasks on a game field. They will also research a solution to a real-world problem related to the theme for this year: Game Changers.
    Due to Covid-19, we are unlikely to have any in-person tournaments this fall, but we will have alternative activities to simulate a tournament.  We may Zoom with other teams to compare robots and present projects, create video presentations, and have in-class mini-challenge competitions.  These may require some after-school time commitment.
    Students entering 6th, 7th and 8th grades are eligible for this class. Robotics experience is not necessary. 

    PLEASE NOTE: This STEAM class will differ from the 8th grade Automation and Robotics class.  A & R is a semester-long graded elective that uses VEX robotics equipment for building and programming, and has additional focus on A & R in industry and careers in engineering.  8th grade students who are interested in deeper knowledge of robotic systems and programming are encouraged to take Automation and Robotics.  It is only offered fall semester.  (Spring semester I teach Aeronautics and Engineering.)

    If you want to join the LEGO Robotics class, please fill out this interest form by August 5.

    2020 STEAM LEGO Robotics class interest form


    FIRST Robotics is a global nonprofit that runs robotics competitions at all levels for students ages 5 - 18.  You can learn more about the whole program here: www.firstinspires.org

    FIRST LEGO League (FLL)(6th-7th grade)

    FLL logo FLL trophy FLL uses LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics and has a heavy emphasis on developing soft skills such as teamwork, project/time management, research skills, public speaking and group communication.  Students build and program autonomous robots to navigate a game field and perform tasks. They also research a real-world problem related to the theme for the season and propose a well thought out and innovative solution. 

    At the tournament, they compete all day with other teams in the robot game, and also go before a panel of judges to present their research project solution, their robot design and strategy, and talk about their teamwork.  The top teams will advance from a local tournament to a regional tournament.

    Teams are allowed no more than 10 members under FIRST rules.  JMS had two FLL teams last year. 

    To learn more about FLL, watch this YouTube video: About FIRST LEGO League

     FIRST Tech Challenge  (7th-8th grade)

    FTC logo FTC has greater emphasis on technical skills and the engineering design process. Students use industrial-style parts to build a robot that is both autonomous and remote controlled. They generate an engineering design notebook showing all their work and design process, which they then present to judges.   Students must already have good teamwork skills for this competition because the build process is much more intense and technically demanding.

    Two MU engineering students come to meetings every week to mentor the team with robot design, building and programming. FTC teams are allowed no more than 12 members under FIRST rules. 

    To learn more about FTC, watch this YouTube video: What is First Tech Challenge?


    Because this is a competitive team, we expect students to make a commitment to participating at the same level they would for an athletic team. They must be willing to come to all meetings, participate fully and attend the tournaments with their team.  

    Robotics is an expensive activity. It costs about $1600 per team per season. Ms. McKenzie seeks out grant funding to support JMS teams, but we also ask that parents contribute $75 for the season to help pay for team and tournament registration, team shirts, equipment and snacks.  If we have to travel for a tournament, parents will be asked to provide transportation and supervision.

    Meeting schedule

    Robotics begins meeting August 26. 


    FLL team members will be determined by Sept. 15.

    We will meet every Monday and Tuesday after school in room 042 from 2:45 -  3:45. Students can ride the activity bus home or arrange parent pickup.  In September meetings may start going until 4:30 or 5, if students want more time to work. 

    In October, as we approach the tournament date, we will add additional weekday work sessions and some Saturday morning work sessions.


    FTC game release is in early September. We will start working on the robot mid-September.  The meeting schedule may change based on the availability of our MU Engineering student mentors.

    The tournament is usually on MLK weekend in January, in either KC or St. Louis. 

    Benefits -- Why join a robotics team?

    Competitive robotics brings together many skills that lead to success in life and careers. Students learn many technical skills, design process thinking, teamwork skills, time management and how to succeed under pressure, fail gracefully and learn from mistakes.  Universities and employers recognize the benefits of competitive robotics.  FIRST participants are eligible for more than $3 million in college scholarships given to high school seniors every year.  Employers such as Boeing, 3M, National Instruments, Honeywell and Disney are all sponsors of FIRST programs because they recognize the workforce value of all the technical and soft skills that FIRST teaches.


    JMS robotics teams are sponsored by these generous organizations:

    Columbia STEM Alliance https://columbiastemalliance.com/