Rebooted robotics program holds promise

Program aims to create interest and promote learning for all grades

The recreation department has introduced FIRST Robotics programs to the district. There is a Junior FIRST Lego League (JFLL) for kindergarten through third graders, a FIRST Lego League (FLL) for fourth through eighth graders and a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) for seventh through 12th graders.

“Any time a new program comes to the school that is connected to academics as an extra supplement is really exciting,” said Carol Davis, advanced learning coordinator.

(Adrienne Houck) Members of the FTC robotics team work together during a team meeting. A district lack of STEM programs and clubs have pushed the new club into existence.
(Adrienne Houck) Members of the FTC robotics team work together during a team meeting. A district lack of STEM programs and clubs have pushed the new club into existence.

These programs offer students out-of-school opportunities to build their science, technology and engineering skills.

“I think this is a pathway to the sciences, if they are interested in robotics, interested in engineering; I think it is a good pathway to give them a look at it, to see if it is something they might want to do in their future,” Davis said.

The FTC team must design, build and program a robot in order to compete in a challenge against other robots at a regional competition.

The FTC team has named themselves “Robohounds 2.0” and currently has 15 members.

Coach, Ted Houck thinks that the team has faced challenges as a new team, but is learning and growing at a fast pace.

“We are a rookie team; we’ve never competed before so we’ve started from scratch. There are other teams in the area who have been doing this for nine years. They’ve already got a robot and they have people that are experienced to build the robot. So they are probably ahead of us as far as our robot goes for this competition. But we are coming up to speed pretty quick,” Houck said.

Nicholas Burkee, junior, has joined the team because of a positive experience with FIRST programs in the past.

“Before I came to Shorewood Schools I was at Oak Creek and we did a [FIRST] Lego League with a mind storm robot and we also competed. The experience was good and I had a lot of fun,” Burkee said.

Robohounds 2.0 has already finished designing and building their robot. Their next step is to test its software.

“Now that we have the robot built, it is more software testing,” Burkee said.

The software is the most difficult aspect of FTC, as it is new to members.

“The most challenging part [of this process] is software,” said Natan Fessehaye, seventh grade.

The team hopes to finish all the programming by the end of November.

“Our goal was to have the robot running by Thanksgiving. We beat that goal. Now our goal is … trying to get all the program devices working in software by Thanksgiving,” Houck said. “We are about halfway through of getting all our devices to function properly with the software.

Robohounds 2.0 will compete in a regional competition against other robotics teams in late December or early January. FIRST has yet to determine the dates of all of the regional competitions.

Team members feel hesitant going into the competition because it is their first year competing.

“I am pretty nervous for [the competition]. I hope the robot’s code doesn’t malfunction,” Fessehaye said.

Davis believes that besides designing, building and programming a robot, a huge part of FIRST programs is the human component.

“We think about robots as being autonomous and just doing things by themselves,” Davis said. “But there is a huge human component to robotics. We need humans to push them forward, so we need kids to push them forward.”

by Madeline Wilson

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