The C.A.T.S. Robotics team has been collecting awards during regional and state Lego robotics competitions this school year and has earned a spot at the FIRST Lego League Legoland California Invitational Open in May in Carlsbad, California.
The team, made up of four Spokane Public Schools students at different middle schools, won the Robot Performance Award and the Champion’s Award at the Eastern Washington qualifier tournament in December and won a Project Innovative Solution Award at the Eastern Washington State Championship.
Cole Bonawitz, Alice Rudders, Thomas Glavin and Sasha Sharman all used to attend Spokane Public Montessori, but now find themselves at different middle schools. “None of our schools had a robotics team, and we all wanted to do robotics,” Sasha said.
Their team name comes from an acronym of the initials of their first names. They wear cat ears when they compete and also have a mascot, an orange and white cat named Walter. “This is our first year together,” Alice said.
Thomas’ mother, Lisa Glavin, agreed to coach the team and set up a giant board in her basement so the team could practice making their Lego robot do different tasks. “It has two minutes, 30 seconds to do as many tasks as it can on this table,” Sasha said.
The team created a different Lego attachment to perform each task. There’s no blueprint to follow, and it’s up to each team to design and build its own, Sasha said. “Other teams find other ways to do the missions,” he said.
Thomas demonstrated one of the tasks recently, sending the robot across the table to push an item a certain distance. Though the robot had performed the task successfully many times, on that day it came up short. “It doesn’t work every time,” he said.
Creating the attachments is part of the challenge, Cole said. “It’s just fun to invent ways to do your own missions,” he said.
“It’s a fun activity that we’re not forced into,” Sasha said. “We run our team. The coach plays a minimal role.”
Lisa Glavin agreed. “I just make the snacks,” she said. “We’re not programming for them. They’re doing it all themselves.”
The team said they never expected to make it this far in competition, particularly after their robot didn’t perform well at the state competition, coming in 15th. “We made it perform well on this table,” Sasha said, pointing to their practice table. “The tables at state were all different.”
Each competition also includes a research project and a core values presentation, and it was the strength of those projects that carried them through. In fact, their research project was selected as a semifinalist for the Global Innovation Award.
The students decided to do their research project on the effect of radiation on astronauts on long-term missions. The solution they suggested was surrounding the astronauts with a cylinder of water to absorb the radiation.
Though the team has had a wildly successful first year together, they will disband when the school year is over. Cole is moving to South Carolina, and Sasha, the oldest, will be going to high school and will be ineligible to compete in Lego robotics.
Lisa Glavin said she didn’t have any experience as a robotics team coach but she doesn’t really need any. “I’ve been a parent helper before,” she said. “I don’t know anything about the robots or programming.”
She said the students put in at least eight or nine hours a week while building their robot and its attachments.
“They all have different strengths,” she said. “They’re a good team. It’s really not easy, what they’re doing.”
The team is not sponsored by the school district, so the families have paid for all the supplies and expenses. Lisa Glavin said Spokane Public Schools reimbursed them for some things, like entry fees, but they’re on their own for traveling money to attend the upcoming competition.
Glavin started a Go Fund Me account that had raised just over $2,000 of its $3,000 goal as of early this week. The fundraiser is at
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