WORCESTER – Monday marked the start of the fifth annual Massachusetts Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Week, and as part of the start, students from Barncott High School gathered in the school gymnasium to film some episodes – in a fairly high-tech fashion.
Students were facing their rivals from the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic and it might not initially sound like something related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) until you hear that kids were using robots in the game.
First Lieutenant Karen Polito visited Burncoat High to showcase the first robotics programs (to inspire and recognize science and technology) in the school as well as surrounding schools. While the program might be called FIRST, Worcester-area students are no strangers to robotics. Accompanied by their coaches, students from elementary to high school demonstrated their creativity and how they have achieved success in completing set challenges (such as shooting balls through basketball hoops).
“Every year we build a completely new robot, and the goal is different every year,” said Nicholas Gallotti, Burncoat’s robotics trainer.
The mission this year was to catch a 9-inch ball and throw it vertically into the goal.
“That’s apparently the height of the basketball hoop,” he said as the red ball was sailing through the net.
The Burncoat team, nicknamed the Green Reapers, began work on their robot in January, as did their opponents at Mass Academy.
“We are both tasked with doing the exact same thing but we approach it in two completely different ways,” Galeotti explained.
While the two teams are technically competing, he emphasized that the real goal was fun and innovation, with the question of winning or losing a second distant.
“Once they hear it doesn’t matter if we win, we’re having fun and learning, and suddenly they get more things and do better,” Galeotti said.
“Robots have really given me the opportunity to experience the things I love,” said David Barsoum, a junior at MAS Academy. “Part of being at FIRST Robotics is being able to create these beautiful machines and solve problems, and just the gratification of that is enough.”
“It doesn’t take long to make a robot. It takes a long time to make a great robot,” said Greg Jones, a robotics coach from Southern High School.
About STEM Week
STEM Week is a statewide initiative to promote interest and awareness of opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among students, particularly underrepresented demographics such as women, students of color, and other minorities. Various educational organizations receive government grants to pursue this goal including the local chapter of FIRST Robotics.
“We have done a lot of work with WPI and FIRST Robotics,” Polito said, adding that the two have developed close relationships with schools throughout central Massachusetts. “We are grateful for their partnership, so we wanted to come back today and see how far they’ve come and they’ve done an amazing job.”
Robotics teaches students more than just engineering and coding, but it also teaches valuable skills for the rest of their education and after school as well, according to Jones, who also teaches physics. “The biggest problem for kids is communication. We have brilliant students coming in but they don’t necessarily know how to communicate with each other very well.”
Jones explained that excelling in AP courses is an individual effort, rather than being part of a team, so working together to achieve a joint product can be a challenge.
“When they enter the world of robotics, we force them to be together,” Jones said. “You can’t build a robot on your own. You have to have different people with different strengths.”
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