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Ronan Robotics to be featured in Smithsonian exhibit

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Spectators from around the world will be able to take a glimpse at Ronan Robotics’ world champion machine beginning in early spring in Washington, D.C. The robot will be part of an exhibit entitled Math Alive, which features 40 interactive exhibitions, bringing to life math behind some of the activities children enjoy. The display will run from March through June in the Smithsonian Ripley Center’s International Gallery. Robotics instructor Jesse Gray’s SD30 team are hard at work building a replica to send to the nation’s capitol.

When asked how they feel about being featured in a prestigious museum, SD30 team member Collin Hardy couldn’t believe it was happening.

“It’s a shock,” the Ronan High School junior said. “I wouldn’t think anyone in Ronan would have something in the Smithsonian.”

The replica will not be a working model, Gray added, stating the team downgraded to non functioning motors to cut cost, since the robot will sit stationary in the exhibit. The cost of the complete replica is $1,300, expenses that the company Raytheon is covering.

Since winning the world championship at the First Championships in St. Louis, Mo., on April 30, Gray’s team has grown from just eight students to 20. With the increase of students, Gray decided to split the students into two teams for this spring’s State championship.

“The overall excitement has grown in the school,” he said. “A lot of kids are getting experience designing and engineering.”

Each year the requirements for the competition change, forcing students to get creative and build different robots.

According to Gray, this year there will be no terrain challenges, focusing more on lifting racquetballs and crates. The higher the life at the end, the more points the team scores.

“The new challenges keep it exciting,” Gray noted.

“A lot of different ideas are floating around.”

Gray serves as an advisor to his team, only helping when his students have questions.

“I’m just here to mentor them,” he said. “I won’t build or design anything. It’s all on them.”

The responsibility gives ownership to the students and helps their learning all at the same time, he added. 

“It’s hands on, they use technology, engineering, math skills and design, which is a lot of involvement,” he said. “A lot of them don’t realize how much math is involved.”

The integrated learning gives his students a big advantage when moving on to college, he added. 

“Montana State University has a good robotics program,” Gray said. “(MSU) told me they are willing to take any of my students.”

Gray is entering his fifth year teaching robotics for Ronan High School, but the program began seven years ago at the middle school, allowing Gray to spend many years guiding interested students.

“I had one kid for six years,” Gray said. “He’s now working as a helicopter mechanic.”

In January, Ronan must have a finished model for the team’s one-and-only shot at making the National Championship again, which is by competing well at State. Before then, Gray will be hosting a workshop to show the community what robotics does, and will also host an invitational scrimmage to test Ronan’s new machine against area competitors.

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