David Starr Jordan Middle School fields three teams from its after school Jordan Robotics club to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a robotics competition in which teams design, build, program and operate robots.
CougarCoders, RoboGirls and CougarBOTS are coached by Chris Mitchell, who oversees the CougarLAB and Digital Media program at Jordan. Mitchell teaches computer, digital media and Exploring Engineering classes at the school.
The 2017-18 school year was the first year Jordan fielded a team for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC.) So many students were interested, they school was able to form a second team. For the 2019 FTC, a few of the girls from the previous team recruited more girls at the school and Jordan now has a girls-focused team.
With $15,000 in additional funds provided for the 2018-19 school year by the Young Sheldon grant Burbank Unified School District recently received, Jordan was able to field three teams for the FIRST Tech Challenge.
The school purchased six Pitsco Tetrix Robotics Kits with expansion packs for Exploring Engineering and the Jordan Robotics teams. With the grant funds, they also bought 18 Lego Robotics Kits to be used in several computer classes and may be used for an after school program or for teachers using the school’s new STEAM lab.
Each Jordan Robotics team has two robots to work with, so that one can always be ready for competition and driving practice while the other can be used to explore new robot designs and programming, explained Mitchell. “This gives everyone involved lots more hands-on time and speeds up the learning process.”
The robots include motors, servos, a variety of sensors (light, distance, touch, motor encoders) and students program them using Java to create an android app, he added.
Three-fourths of the robotics team members are part of the Exploring Engineering class, one of Jordan’s CTE (Career Technical Education) classes.
The Jordan Robotics program started several years ago with the 21st Century Robot Program funded by Warner Brothers with additional support from a Burbank Arts for All grant.
“Last year it was wonderful to see students work together to design, build, and program their robots, see how they performed in competition, and then work on improving their design and coding to do better in the next meet,” commented Mitchell.
“Being a part of our competitive robotics teams give students many of the same benefits of being on a sports team, but they are also learning engineering skills, programming skills, and how to work together as a team to solve challenging tasks. These skills will be valuable as they pursue higher education and careers.”
CougarCoders, RoboGirls and CougarBOTS attend their first practice meet on November 17 at Temple City High School., with the first season meet on Saturday, December 1, at the same school.
“Our middle school teams compete in a league with both high school and middle school teams with the majority being high school. Some schools have been involved with competitive robotics for many years.”
“Last year our teams did well in their first year – placing in the top third at some of our meets. This year we hope to do even better with some experience and more equipment and supplies. We will need to place in the top 25% at the InterLeague meet to move on to regional competition.”
The robotics teams also plan to hold five build nights at which students will have four to five hours to work on finalizing robots, testing their programming and practicing their robot driving skills.
Enthusiasm for and interest in the program is high among the Jordan students. Although funds from the Young Sheldon grant will support the program for a total of two years, future funding of the program is not secure, without a dedicated revenue stream.
“I am hoping Measure QS will pass so that our district has funding to continue to support and expand our strong CTE and STEM classes and programs,” added Mitchell.