By Cameron Hill
Many people see Robotics as just coding and robots, but that is not the case. Robotics is really about the journey throughout the season as you develop connections and learn about real-world problem solving. Through robotics, you develop a good sense of the true world of engineering and everything involved in the engineering process from management skills to building connections.
Like most activities this year, Covid has forced the high school robotics team at Tempe Preparatory Academy to adjust and adapt to some unforeseen challenges. Only two students can be in the workshop at any time so that social distancing can be achieved, which forced the team to downsize to ten members. Overall, the robotics program has only been able to operate at about 25% percent of its normal abilities.
Despite the challenges, Tempe Prep’s FIRST Robotics team has fared well in its preparations so far for a multitude of reasons. While losing a workshop may discourage some, the FIRST Robotics team turned the problem into an opportunity. Although the team was forced to leave their old workshop, they actually found a permanent workshop where both high school and middle school robotics work together. Head coach Dave Dischinger stated that the move into a permanent workshop will not only “increase student, parental, faculty, and outside mentor participation in the program,” but also “benefit” the middle school and high school teams by providing “cross pollination opportunities.”
Coach Dischinger said that his goal for this season is to “teach students about the problem-solving process in general, and about the skills and technologies involved in robotics” by supplying the team with “industry level experience and knowledge.” The team has partly been achieving these goals through a relatively new mentorship program. Members of the ASU engineering community mentor the team and help them improve their coding, design, 3D printing and networking within the engineering community. Just as Coach Dischinger mentioned real-world problem solving as one of the main skills he wanted to help the team develop, Tempe Prep Senior Danny Tsark remarked that learning how to deal with “real world experiences” is one of the main benefits of doing robotics.
Danny expressed that his original goal for the team was to perform well at the regional and hopefully state competitions. Unfortunately, all face to face competitions have been canceled this year. Danny said the team was forced to shift their focus towards a new type of “at-home challenge” created this year. Rather than traditional face to face competitions against other teams, this year the team must create robots that pass certain accuracy and maneuverability tests that require the robot to shoot balls through certain zones or drive autonomously through a set course. The team is currently submitting these challenges, which Danny admitted were “more difficult than we expected.” However, Danny said that the team has adapted and he is “confident that we will place well.”
For those that may be interested in joining next year, robotics has tons of benefits. Coach Dischinger remarked that robotics “introduces the world of technical problem solving, in a really fun venue,” and also “creates a powerful and unique combination of skills” by combining STEM with the traditional study of the humanities at TPA. Danny added, “Robotics stands out on a resume. Just like work experience, robotics tells colleges that you work well with others.”
Robotics is a great opportunity for any TPA student interested in STEM to gain invaluable experience in the field that prepares them for future careers. FIRST Robotics is always looking for more dedicated workers to join the team, especially young women interested in STEM, so think about joining next year.
About Tempe Prep: Tempe Preparatory Academy is a tuition-free public charter school in Tempe for students in grades 6-12 that provides a nationally acclaimed liberal arts education based on the Great Books of Western Civilization with an exceptional math, science, foreign language, humanities, and fine arts curriculum. Tempe Prep has been recognized by the Arizona Board of Regents as having the highest percentage of college graduates in the state and has been named the #1 high school in Arizona by Newsweek (America’s Top High Schools 2016). For more information about enrolling at Tempe Prep, visit the school’s website at tempeprep.org.