Career & Technical Education | GUEST OPINION

Arlington Public Schools is receiving national and worldwide attention for our Robotics program. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics began four years ago as a mentor-based club available to our high school students. Mentors from Boeing, Microsoft and the APS staff commit many hours to support the team that now calls itself FIRST Team 2903 NeoBots.

Each year, members receive a “kit” of materials and embark upon building their robot under strict rules, limited resources and time constraints.  The team can vary their design within the parameters mandated. This year APS FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) built two robots under the guidance of their eight mentors.  The teams also need to understand and be able to use the software that runs their robots. The robot design and accompanying software becomes more sophisticated each year, creating higher-level challenges for the students.

In the beginning of the year, students meet three times per week, increasing to six times once the building season begins.  Championships are held annually all over the nation. FIRST Team 2903 NeoBots will attend the championship held in Seattle on March 22-24.  The robot challenge, Rebound Rumble, is similar to basketball game. Teams compete by trying to make as many baskets as they can in a two-minute, 15-second time constraint.  Our FRC robots have achieved an 80-90% accuracy rate during practices.  During the championship competitions, students can receive scholarships and awards from FIRST.  Technology companies also attend to recruit students for employment due to the practical experience they receive. To see more details on this year’s competition, or more about the activities of the NeoBots, you can go to their website at neobots2903.org.

FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The not-for-profit charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills. In addition to the high school level FIRST Robotics Competition, the organization has developed Jr. FIRST LEGO League for grades K-3, FIRST LEGO League for grades 4-8 and FIRST Tech Challenge for grades 9-12.

The 2903 NeoBots FIRST Robotics team was selected as one out of 12 schools around the world to conduct a beta test using the Kinect game system. In November 2011 eight of the 2903 NeoBots team from Arlington School District were invited by the Director of Academic Programs at Microsoft to demonstrate their Kinect beta findings at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. The students put on an amazing demonstration with their discoveries between the Kinect game system and the robot.  Employees from Microsoft, international journalists from around the world, and Alex Kipman (an inventor of the Kinect game system) were shown educational interactive demonstrations by the NeoBot students.  Mr. Kipman and several of the international journalists were given the opportunity to drive the robot using the Kinect game system the NeoBots students had developed.  It was an incredible opportunity for our students to show off their stuff, and they were excited about demonstrating what they had developed.

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, the 2903 NeoBots team had the opportunity to demonstrate its robot with the employees from C & D Zodiac in Marysville. The employees of C & D Zodiac have been sponsoring the 2903 NeoBots team by contributing financial assistance, field trip opportunities, and manufacturing engineer mentors.  This has been an incredible partnership and our students had a wonderful time getting to show off their Kinect discoveries.

As a result of the popularity of FIRST Robotics at Arlington High School, the district developed a Robotics course where students learn and apply technology theory.  Students who are taking the Robotics class are able to understand the connection between the theory they learn in class and the practical application they gain from the FIRST Team activities.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a focus at the federal, state and district level.  Our goal is to prepare our students for future opportunities and help them be competitive in work and college in our expanding and connected world.  We continue to build our STEM courses to provide more opportunities for students.  Currently, at the middle school level we offer pre-engineering along with the traditional woodshop course.  At the high school level students can take biotechnology, video game design, 3D animation, robotics, CAD, engineering, woods I and II, and ag mechanics.

We’re proud of the work of our students, staff, mentors and community partners — Building for the future.

Andrea Conley is the Public Information Coordinator/Teaching & Learning Executive Assistant at Arlington Public Schools and can be reached via email at aconley@asd.wednet.edu or by calling 360-618-6217.


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