So after being a casualty of the California budget crisis I found myself at a new school. I knew that I had to start a Robotics team, but I was a bit concerned whether or not I had the time, the abilities to manage a team, or if there would be enough student interest.
As if a sign from the gods that this endeavor was blessed, I was approached by Ray Trinidad (more on this remarkable man in a bit) who had heard of my interest in starting a team. He said that the students had created a petition to start a team from over 20 kids and he wanted to hear more about robotics!
Well, now that the student interest was taken care of, Ray and I spoke for a while about the incredible things I had seen robotics do for students, especially when it seems like the odds are stacked against them. Ray has worked with all types of students for years, so it was an easy sale. Whether working as a leader of schools or partnering with "at-risk" students in Los Angeles Unified School District, Ray has been a champion for after school programs and helping students to find meaningful and safe places to work, play, and be happy.
Yet, it seemed that there might be some bumps in the road. The California budget had still not resolved itself and our district had frozen any new ventures such as this one. So what does Ray do? He whips out his personal credit card and purchases the materials we need! By mid-January of 2009 our team was ready to go. We decided to go with the VEX Robotics platform because of its cost but also because it is extremely preparatory for Engineering careers.
Students poured into this program and began building and learning. As far as my time concerns, after the students learned the basics from me, they went home and learned more and soon only needed me to help them troubleshoot or refine. However, there was another time constraint. Since our team registered so late, there was only one more competition for the year and it was in one month!
I told the students don't worry just do your best. We are rookies and everyone will support us no matter how we do. My team consisted of a lot of students from my class who had been enticed by my numerous geeky references to it. Let me give you a quick rundown of a couple of these students so you can follow their journey. I will only use their initials as to keep their identities private.
V. - A gifted student who was often bored in class because of the lack of anyone's ability to challenge him enough. He became my lead programmer (he became many other things as well).
Am. - Highly motivated and talented student who was unsure of what career she would pursue. Her attention to detail and leadership qualities landed her the Robotics President position.
An. - Very talented artist, while quiet and withdrawn from class. Her desire to "not be beaten by the boys" and video game talents made her an easy choice for the robot driver.
There are plenty more students that I could lavish praises on but I will hold off for time's sake.
Back to March 2009, we went to our first competition, excited and ready to go. From Eileen's MorTorq robotics team, we had learned that marketing yourself as a team is just as important as playing the game. My students had prepared and coached each other to speak to the judges and other teams about their school and their journey.
Meanwhile, the driver of our robot, lived up to her pledge not to be beaten as "The Bear Claw" as it was named quickly climbed up the rankings. Everyone was blown away by the newest team especially the first place team who asked us to be in an alliance with them!
In the end, we received a Judges award for being so eloquent in talking about our team and we won the entire competition! Our minds we reeling as we were now qualified for World Championship.
To summarize our last couple of years, we went to World Championship that year, as well as this year. We were also selected to go the the USA Science and Engineering festival this October for our virtual world. How does a robotics team go on to create a virtual world? You will need to check out the final post in this series to find out how to make after school programs truly effective and life changing.