NEWPORT, R.I. – A group of students from the robotics teams at Slater Middle School and Shea High School from Pawtucket, Rhode Island visited U.S. Naval War College (NWC) on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
The students brought two robots which they designed and built to NWC to demonstrate to the NWC students, staff and faculty how they operate and what tasks each robot could complete.
Beginning in 2013, the goal of the Slater and Shea’s robotics team was to increase the number of students who may choose to pursue high-tech careers in the engineering and technology fields. Robotics introduces the students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) related concepts as well as prepare them for future careers in STEM-related fields.
“I believe it’s important for students to learn about robotics,” said Mary Parella, director, Child Opportunities Zone, Community School Initiative. “Robotics fall into the world of STEM and I wanted the students to have the opportunity to learn about their importance. There are a lot of jobs and scholarships for the students because of this program. It’s a great learning experience for everyone involved.”
The students also took their robots to the Rhode Island First Robotics Competition. The students design and build their robots from scratch based on specific criteria outlined by the competition’s unique requirements. This year’s requirements were to have the robots stack blocks and to also pick up and move a relic from one spot to another.
“In order for the students on the robotics team to advance at the Rhode Island First Robotics Competition, the robots that are designed must not only be reliable but they have to be effective in accomplishing the tasks put out by the tournament,” said Donald Chisholm, a professor in NWC’s Joint Military Operations Department who also hosted the NWC visit. “Along with the requirements for the robots, the teams have to provide their engineering notebooks that document their design and construction efforts.”
Each student is then evaluated on how well they document his or her work in his or her engineering notebook and well as how well they cooperate with other teams. One of the final criterion requires the students to reach out to organizations within the community to demonstrate their robots which lead them to NWC.
“This program has been going on for the past five years,” said Madeline Chisholm, head coach of the team and a science teacher at Slater. “I have a background in physics and I felt it was important for the students to have the opportunity to receive knowledge in how robotics work and other forms of STEM backgrounds. Some of the students who started out at the junior high school level have moved on to the high school level and then come back as mentors to the current junior high school students.”
One student who started out at Slater did so because he thought the idea of a junior high having a robotics team was interesting.
“I thought it would be fun to be on the team,” said Omar Martinez, an 11th grader. “I joined the team when I was in 7th grade at Slater and because of my experiences with the team and learning how to build robots, I would like to continue studying robotics in college.”
NWC hosted the students at the college’s Spruance Lobby. Following the demonstration, the students visited NWC’s Future Forces Gallery where they received a brief description on the Navy’s robotics programs from John Jackson, a NWC professor and E.A. Sperry Chair of Unmanned and Robotic Systems.
“Technology is rapidly changing the nature of both military operations and all aspects of civilian life,” said Jackson. “Robots, drones, driverless cars will shape the world around us. It is important that the young people of today are studying the ways in which such systems are designed, built and used.”
“By having the students come to the college and hear Prof. Jackson speak, I wanted to make sure they were able to see how they could pursue an education and professional future having directly to do with the robotics work they are doing now in school,” said Donald Chisholm.
“The future belongs to men and women who are comfortable with technology,” said Jackson. “The time spent in the Slater robotics program is helping these students understand the world in which they will live and work in the decades to come.”
Robotics has provided Slater students with a unique and practical opportunity to develop individual as well as collective problem-solving skills in engineering design, programming and construction. They also learn cooperative teamwork in order to navigate a complex set of competitive requirements. According to Madeline Chisholm, the team also provides students with the opportunity to learn STEM principles through a well-designed curriculum.