BRISTOL - City middle school students showcased their engineering and programming knowledge Thursday at the Middle School Robotics Challenge.
The event took place at Northeast Middle School and consisted of four teams: The Autobots of Chippens Hill, in yellow, S.W.A.T. Team of Greene-Hills, in green, WAR (Wolves and Robots) of West Bristol, in grey, and TSA (Technology Student Alliance) of Northeast Middle School, in orange, participating in three Winter Olympics-themed challenges.
Teams comprised of students from their respective schools’ afterschool robotics clubs first participated in “robo curling” where their robot had to push a stone to the center of a track, then “robo hockey” where their robots had to score five goals with a 3-D printed puck and a “robo-biathalon” where their robot had to traverse a course and then touch a sensor using a marker.
Judges for the event included local community leaders such as Chief Jay Kolakoski of the Bristol Fire Department and Justin Malley, executive director of the Bristol Development Authority.
“From my perspective, going out in the field, meeting and listening to the needs of local manufacturers and others in the technology industry, most of them are concerned about if they will be able to have enough skilled employees in the future,” said Malley. “I am very interested in exposing young people to robotics and technology and doing what I can to support the school system. So, when they asked me to be a judge for this STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, I considered it an honor. Having students trained in these fields is so important to the future of our city.”
Just prior to the competition, Vince Jennetta, engineering and technology teacher at Northeast Middle School, explained to the audience how robotics and STEM learning was incorporated into the curriculum.
“At grade six, they are learning computers, how to create documents and creative design,” he said. “At grade seven, they are focusing on computers and robotics - learning how to design and program robots. At grade eight, they are learning CAD (computer assisted design) and engineering. The kids you will see tonight are those who decided to stay after school to get even more involved in robotics. They are selected based on their desire to better themselves and how well they can work together as a team.”
Jannetta said that the robotics programs help teach kids creativity, problem solving, coding and programming, collaboration and teamwork. They also learn determination and come to understand how to learn from failure in a safe environment.
Jannetta said that these skills, as opposed to manual labor, will be very important to students’ future careers.
“Before, futurists were saying that within the next 20 years 40 percent of our labor will be replaced by automation and robotics,” said Jannetta. “Now, many economists are saying the same thing. So, when that happens, what is left? That will be jobs for workers who can solve problems, work collaboratively and think outside of the box.”
After the challenges were concluded, students were rewarded with pizza, cookies and water donated by local businesses.
Sponsors of the Middle School Robotics Challenge included Shop Rite, Price Copper, Stop & Shop, Oriental Trading Company, Inc. and Lancer Productions.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.