Leader Profile: Head Coach Kathryn Morton, “Coach Katie”
Who are you when you are not the head coach of a teenage competitive robotics team?
I am a high school science tutor helping home educated students across the globe to learn biology and chemistry. Before that I was a veterinarian.
How long have you been involved in robotics (as a parent, as a volunteer)?
I have coached three seasons so far: two FIRST Lego League seasons and one FIRST Tech Challenge season. “Game Changers” will be my fourth season with FIRST.
What motivated you to volunteer for this position?
I noticed my son really loved to be on the computer, so I thought, “How can I put this interest to good use?” I had heard some excellent things about FIRST, and their website said, “No Experience Necessary!” so I decided to give coaching a try and start a team.
What was your robotics experience prior to being affiliated with FIRST?
I had participated in SeaPerch, an underwater remotely operated vehicle competition program, with some of my older children. Through that I saw the value of problem-based STEM education.
What do you think about FIRST and how it advances STEM among children using a competitive environment?
Children love games and they love to play. FIRST has captured the spirit of “organized play” and created an incredible program that goes way beyond these two things. The competition day provides a motivation to complete the project. I am regularly looking for fun activities that challenge kids and adults to do “hard things” that bring the joy of success. FIRST creators put together well-designed games to act as the “problem,” and the high quality materials needed to be competitive “on the field” result in really fun, challenging robot designs. Students then tell about the journey of building their robot to “judges” and explain all their creative solutions and the things they learned along the way. At competitions, the students interview other teams, watch their robots in action, and partner up with teams to compete together in an alliance format. The learning experiences and personal growth I have seen in my students over the months and years is unparalleled!
How would you characterize your experience so far as a FIRST leader and volunteer?
I have profound respect for this program. The number of volunteers on all levels who make this program run is incredible-coaches, mentors, parent volunteers, college students & faculty, professionals, and retirees-many of them with the program for years because they see the benefit it brings to the students, and they enjoy the thrill of seeing kids learn good things. That says so much!
Is there a special memory you have of the players that makes you especially proud?
I remember showing up at our first scrimmage at Thanksgiving with a robot that could barely move the game pieces. They scored 3 points! From that point forward, the team worked and worked and worked to build a functioning lift with drawer slides and cable, a linear actuator, and a gripping arm to stack the game pieces about 5-blocks high. They also wrote several autonomous programs. In three months time I was so proud of their robot’s reliable form and function and extremely proud when they made it to the final four alliances. Their high score for the season was about 125! I saw “the light go on” in their minds and smile on their faces--over and over and over!
What are your goals for the team’s second competitive year?
As a coach, I would like to see the team doing more independent research and using online materials to gain programming and CAD skills and gather ideas for designing their robot. I also hope to try using decision making rubrics and advance us from “trial and error” methods to using math to make more educated guesses. There is always an element of trial and error in engineering, but if we can start with more planned solutions, it should advance our iterative cycles more productively.
What do you think of the Guthrie Memorial Library being a base for community youth robotics?
The Library is a wonderful boon to our community! Libraries across the state are going way beyond books. The Guthrie Memorial Library acts as a center for community learning, socialization, multi-disciplinary education, and inspiration. It is a powerful place for the home education community and an additional resource for the kids at brick-and-mortar schools. We have amazing people in Hanover willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise--robotics is a perfect fit for the library!
Why do you think robotics based at the Guthrie Memorial Library is something that is worth supporting?
As a parent of six children, I strongly desire them to return to Hanover after college as adults to work and raise their own families. A community that is vibrant socially, has strong educational programs, quality businesses and innovative leaders, will keep families together longer. Supporting the Library and the Robotics Club helps build a strong community...our community!
What do you wish I had asked, but didn’t?
You didn’t ask about what role females play on an FTC team. Engineering is stereotypically a male profession. FTC welcomes everyone! My strongest engineer last season was a girl. She had great ideas, she followed through to implement her ideas, she stayed focused during meetings and she kept good notes of her designs. My team manager was a girl last year and she kept everyone organized and productive. One of the top teams at our qualifier last year consisted of all girl players and two women coaches! Overall, most teams have a mix of boys and girls. All members of our team practice gracious professionalism, are highly valued, and make significant contributions!