Building Toward Greater Success in Robotics

Image: Jack Dionne solving a problem with the build.

Since joining the high school, Doug Scott has been rebuilding the robotics program with rising success. Currently, two courses are offered.

For the students, robotics offers an alternative opportunity to discover skills they may not have known they possessed. Combining collaborative, project-based learning in a team environment that includes research, writing, building, programming, communication, and marketing, students face challenges that are creative and fun.

Image: Doug Scott speaking with students.

Doug Scott speaking with students.

“The kids get pretty competitive,” Scott said. “The competitive nature drives them and they want to do well.”

Lego robotics provides an entry point for anyone interested and features the familiarity of Legos for construction and a simpler block-style programming language. Yet, the more advanced team robotics course extends beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Neel Mehdi echoes that observation, “I just love competing and I think that is what drive our team as a whole, competing against other teams. It helps us bond.”

Team robotics uses far more robust hardware than the Lego counterpart, as well as a C-based text programming language. Students in the course compete interscholastically, with honors students required to compete outside of school.

Students have achieved notable success. In their first competitive year, Hopkinton fielded five teams. All qualified for the Southern New England Championships, the next regional level of competition.

“Teams that perform well in that even have the opportunity to move onto the World Championship where 34 countries participated last year,” Scott explained. “One team made it to world’s last year and finished 11th in their division of 200 teams.”

Image: Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn discuss their robot design.

Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn
discuss their robot design.

Yet for freshman Tanya Kahn the appeal exceeds the competition, “It’s really captivating, building a robot from scratch. A lot of people think it is not creative but it is so creative.”

In fact, for instructor Doug Scott building the robot is only a small part of the experience and learning.

“For me as the teacher it is more about the soft skills that students learn. Those skills are transferable,” Scott said.

The students shared this notion, recognizing that thee are range of areas where they recognize their own growth.

Freshman Alopa Waje said, “There are so many aspects to robotics. There are so many different ways that you can contribute to a team, which really helps with the bonding and teamwork that we can display in this class.”

“It teaches us some very necessary life skills that we will need down the road, like managing a schedule,” Mehdi added.

Sophomore Phillip Blanchette recognized another thread that links a lot of different elements in class. “Communication is a big part of it. You need to know who is doing what. When they are doing it,” Blanchette said.

Image: Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Nevertheless, the outside competition provides a deadline that is neither ambiguous nor arbitrary. In addition to inspiring some fun, it drives a lot of teamwork and communication.

“The person building the robot needs to know who is building this other part and when the program is going to be done for that part, who is in charge of the notebook, and when we are going to be done and ready for competition,” Blanchette explained.

As teacher Doug Scott maintains, “If you are person that likes to work in teams and work collaboratively toward a common goal this is a really positive experience. A lot of kids might think it is not for them but it is available to everyone and everyone is capable of being successful in the program.”

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