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BCHS robotics: Preparing students for the global digital economy - The Bay City Tribune: Community

BCHS robotics: Preparing students for the global digital economy

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Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2018 4:39 pm

It’s a November afternoon at Bay City High School, and students inside a classroom are scattered about the room. In one corner is a mini-shop, with a drill press, a band saw, hand tools of all types, and scraps of wood, metal and what looks like a pile of junk. In another area students are huddled around a laptop computer, tinkering with a joystick and their cell phones. A group of young men is across from them, sprawled on the floor, urging some remote-controlled contraption to crawl up onto a crude platform they’d assembled.

But Robotics Team Director Grace Wuthrich doesn’t see the clutter. She sees a new opportunity to teach all-important STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s amazing to watch these kids,” she says. “So many of them are finding their passion, their spark.”

Robotics is also a highly effective way to foster essential work skills like collaboration, problem solving and project management. It does all this while keeping students so motivated and engaged that getting them to stop working and move on to the rest of the school day can be a challenge -- a good problem to have! Educators are also using robots to give live demonstrations of math concepts. Students can do the math in a book, they can graph it on a calculator, but when they’re building a robot, they’re really seeing what the math is.

The robotics program at BCHS has students engaged in programming, building, researching, writing and collaborating. Today’s digital age requires that we teach students collaboration skills for the evolving 21st Century workplace. Teachers, however, are often hard-pressed to make this happen effectively, and robotics programs provide an avenue. 

The BCHS Robotics Team competes in BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology), a robotics competition for secondary students. In this competition, students get a box of basically junk pieces, and have about six weeks to design and build a functioning machine that can perform specific tasks in three minutes. The students use the BRAIN (BEST Robotics Advanced Instruction Node programmable platform), where they learn computer-programming skills. 

The high school also competes in the FIRST competitions – (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), specifically in the FIRST Tech Challenge program. The students design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format.

At the start of the competition, the robots are pre-programmed with coding to use a color sensor to detect which of two balls is the color of its present alliance. The robots are to knock off the other color. The robots then use a scanner to detect which of the three columns onto which it will place a cube, which is done with a code like a QR code. Finally, the robot parks in the safe zone.  All of this has to happen in 30 seconds.  After that, teams may use controllers to command their robots for the next two-and-a-half minute phase of the contest – robots must place cubes onto the columns in patterns. Lastly, the robot must return to the balancing pad before time runs out.

The programming the students do is the same type of programming used to control unmanned aircraft such as drones.  Applications also include storage and warehouses, search and rescue, industrial accidents, police surveillance, bomb squads and more.

Wuthrich said, “It’s great to see all these different kids come together in this class. I’ve got students who are straight-A students, to students who are just not interested in academics but love to build things. Plus, all of them are applying science concepts and practices as well as workplace skills such as mandatory goggles, equipment safety, workplace safety and ethics, and teamwork.” 

Brittany J, a robotics team member said, “It’s hard to work with all these people who think differently, but we function as a team. Our dynamic works for us, because we all have the same goal. I know that my leadership skills have definitely improved since I joined this team.”

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