Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Students put their robots to the test: Glebe, Elwood School to ship their contest entries to Mississauga

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.02.21
BYLINE: Carrie Kristal-Schroder
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
Students put their robots to the test: Glebe, Elwood School to ship their contest entries to Mississauga
After six weeks of brainstorming, collaborating, and building, students from two Ottawa \schools will pack and ship their mechanical creations to Mississauga tomorrow to compete in a robotics competition next month.
The FIRST robotic competition, which was founded in 1989, is an international event in which 1,000 high schools -- including Glebe Collegiate and Elmwood School, with one team each -- will compete in nearly 30 regional competitions across North America.
Winners of each regional competition will then go on to Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in the championship.
FIRST is an acronym meaning "For inspiration and recognition in science and technology." The competition's goal is to inspire students in science, engineering, math and technology with a focus on co-operation and teamwork, said Vance Scott, director of the Greater Toronto Regional Competition, in which the Ottawa students will compete.
Mr. Scott said 66 teams from across Canada and the U.S. will compete in Mississauga, making it the largest high school robotics competition in Canada.
Richard Seniuk, a Glebe teacher and the team leader for the 25 Glebe students taking part in the project, said that while the endeavour is time-consuming and expensive, it generates a huge payoff.
"During the six-week build period, when the students have to brainstorm designs, do calculations on weight restrictions, prototyping, and then build the robot, I usually put in about 30 extra hours per week. But it's a huge deal for these kids: it provides a great learning environment for at-risk kids; it teaches math, engineering, programming. And it gives them access to thousands of dollars in scholarships which are only available to kids who take part in FIRST competitions," said Mr. Seniuk.
But, at $6,000 U.S. per team for electronics and other parts, plus accommodations during the competition, Mr. Seniuk said the biggest headache is trying to raise the money.
Mr. Seniuk said the Glebe team has some corporate support, including the use of a machine shop where they built the robot, but they raise the bulk of the money through fundraising.
Glebe English teacher Cornelia Wagner, who also helps out the robotic team, is a strong believer in the benefits of the FIRST competition.
"Some of these kids would be nowhere without this project. It gives them a focus and sense of achievement. Plus the co-operative nature is great -- one of the most common phrases you hear is 'gracious professionalism.' And if a team runs into trouble with a robot, other teams are always willing to help."
"These are not robot wars," said Mr. Scott. "Scoring the most points is a secondary goal. To us, winning means building partnerships that last."
The students are particularly enthusiastic to be taking part in the project.
Grade 9 student Daniel Jamieson, 14, came to Glebe specifically so he could take part in the robotics program.
"I transferred here because I'm interested in robotics and I've been able to work on web programming, plus coming up with strategies for the games in the competition and the robot's design," he said.
His teammate Darryl Flora, 16, who is in Grade 10, was on the team last year and said he likes going to the competition and seeing how each team constructed its robot. "Our goal is to win -- but we really want to have fun, do our best and get new knowledge."
For Grade 9 student Sam Roesch, 15, it's all about creativity. "I love it. I do a lot of creative stuff at home, and it's great to be able to use the machine shop to create something new."


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