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Year 9 EEP Robotics Challenge Heat at RAF Cosford

It was at about 07:30 that morning that I started to really feel the excitement...

The coach for our team – which consisted of the 13 of us, plus Mr Opong, Miss Male, and Sixth Formers Leah, Hannah and Sophia – arrived at school to pick us up at 08:00, but most of us were up in one of the computing classrooms over half an hour before. I think the closeness of the competition had finally dawned on us, and we were desperate to make final adjustments and alterations to ensure we had the best chance we could at making our hard work and ultimate commitment come to fruition. Then, when the time came, we packed our robots in a bag and got on the way to RAF Cosford Museum.

After running through our presentation twice on the coach, I was fully charged with excitement and determination to succeed. Arriving at school that morning to a committed atmosphere of friends – and not to mention driving into the Museum site, seeing the magnificent planes and spotting the other school teams – finally made the whole thing feel more real to me, and the buzzing jitters of anticipation rose inside. We were guided into the building, and as we made our way to our assigned team table I couldn't help but wonder at the history all around us.

Our first round of the day was the Speed and Control Challenge, which admittedly presented its challenges for us. Our robot had been working beautifully when we'd tested it at school – we'd managed to get it going at a good speed, and without swerving much. But when we tested it at the competition, it kept turning at all different angles on the way back. However, we luckily had two attempts at the challenge, and after our first attempt didn't go as well as we liked, we did what we could to try and improve – we went to the back of the room and practised, practised, practised manually fixing its direction. We encouraged each other; gave each other tips; adopted a growth mindset when things went wrong. And although we didn't come out at the top of the leader-board for that challenge, we didn't come out at the bottom either, and we also left that room feeling more bonded as a team than ever before.

That really proved helpful in the Teamwork Challenge that followed, where our big team of 13 was split into separate groups to build a 'rocket car' design per each group in just 12 minutes. I felt our team dynamic was brilliant: we all were comfortable discussing with, leading with and listening to each other, no matter who we ended up working with, and we all managed to stay calm under the pressure and produce stable designs.

Then came the Mat Challenges – the ones which we as a team had found the most difficult from the outset. Our robots had to perform a series of different actions and movements, including lifting objects up and moving them to other spaces on the mat. This was tricky: sometimes, the robots would work perfectly and do exactly as you needed them to; at other times, things would go completely wrong. It was always a risk whenever you put your robot down on the mat, especially when we only had two attempts at getting as many challenges done in the space of 5 mins and 40 seconds each time. The first try was before lunch, and it really highlighted the areas we needed to improve on. I'm proud to say that our second official attempt definitely went much better than our first, after a very committed couple of hours.

In between those two attempts was the Project Presentation, which we delivered to a group of friendly volunteers who work in STEM, straight after lunch. In all honesty, this was what I was most nervous about. Our whole team had spent so much time providing information on our journeys over the course of the process, and I had poured in hours designing presentation slides and writing detailed notes as a guide for what everyone would be saying. For me, the nervous jitters were back with a vengeance in that five minutes before we walked into that room, as we loaded up the slides onto Mr Opong's laptop and tried to motivate each other to really do our absolute best. I just remember repeating the words we can do this, we can do this, we can do this in my head over and over again, endeavouring to make myself believe them; I remember saying them several times aloud to my teammates, trying to make them believe them too. I knew we could do it - we'd worked too hard not to be able to. But we just really needed to bring everything we had for the next twenty minutes.

I tried to feel as confident as possible when we walked into the room full of our judges, as we got the presentation up on the screen, as we stood together as a team, as we began to tell our audience about our journey. I felt a warm feeling growing inside as we went along; I realised that we could do this, that we were doing this. We knew ourselves, we knew each other, we knew what we had learned and what we were saying. Even in the Q&A session afterwards, something you can't really entirely prepare for, I just felt the words flowing as I answered question after question, always linking back to our pride in each other and our absolute commitment as a team. We returned to our team table in a loud, charged, laughing haze of relief and overexcitement and happiness and hope and pride – because, no matter whether we had won or lost, we knew we had all done our absolute best, and whatever happened we would still be a team which had stayed together from the start.

Sitting in the lecture hall for the Awards Assembly afterwards was when the nervousness returned for me. In retrospect, I was really just overreacting, but in that moment I felt that if we didn't win this Project Presentation, then it would be my ultimate failure, that I would never be good enough, that I had let my team down. The STEM volunteer announcing the presentation award was talking about the winning team's extraordinary teamwork, resilience, attention to detail and commitment, and I really hoped it could be us in spite of my nerves. And then I heard the words, "Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls!"; I remember us all exchanging looks of pure joy, then hurrying in an elated state to the front of the room; I was given a trophy to hold, a snapshot of this perfect moment of all of us together was captured by a camera, and I know that I just couldn't believe what had happened. We left the Museum jittering with glee this time, sitting and talking and laughing with the friends who we couldn't have done any of this without.

On behalf of the entire team, I just want to say a huge thank you to all the teachers and students who dedicated their own free time and resources to make this entire experience possible for us. Thank you to the Year 10s (last year's robotics team) and Year 12s, who offered us invaluable advice every step of the way. Thank you to Miss Male for all your help, kindness and support on the day of the competition heat. Thank you so much to Mr Opong – without you and your hard work and commitment, absolutely none of this amazing opportunity could have happened at all for us, and for that we are all so, so grateful. And, last, but not least in the slightest, I just want to say thank you to my fellow teammates. You have all been so supportive of all of us throughout, both as unstoppable fellow robotics club members and as good, kind friends, and that's what made this whole process so wonderful in every way for me. I'm just so proud of us, and I know this was a truly special experience that none of us are ever likely to forget. Go team!!!

By Eva, Year 9