Robots set to battle

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Bristol Middle School Robotics Challenge is back, and will be held at Northeast Middle School on Thursday, April 12, at 4 p.m.

Vince Jennetta is a computer, engineering, and technology teacher at Northeast Middle School, and serves as the engineering and technology department coordinator for all four middle schools. He explained the engineering and technology program stemmed from technology education, which found its start in industrial arts. The focus of industrial arts was designing products and then going through a production and manufacturing process, where students were taught how to use tools and machinery in a safe and proper manner. From there, students used those skills to create and complete products.

“Then our most recent adoption of curriculum to engineering and technology really focuses on the engineering and design process, and then we try to get kids to be creative problem solvers and apply the engineering and design process to the many different things that we do in here,” said Jennetta. “At the same time, we’re going engineering and technology, we looked at another way to hook kids on technology and it was evident that robotics would be the way to go, so we adopted a robotics curriculum.”

Due to donations from the Bristol Business Education Foundation, said Jennetta, the school was able to purchase robotics kits, that are utilized in both the classroom curriculum and during the afterschool program. The Middle School Robotics Challenge was created about nine years ago, from the afterschool program, which teaches programming, computer coding, and how to design and build robots.

“I think, first and foremost, they have a sense of collaboration, teamwork, they’re working with other students, and I think what they’ve discovered is that while they may have an idea, it doesn’t always work out that their idea is the best idea. A lot of these kids tend to be high-performing academic students, although I try to bring anybody at any ability level into the afterschool program,” said Jennetta. “I think another thing that they get out of it is that it’s hard; you’re not going to get it right the first time or the 10th time or maybe even the 100th time, so there’s a sense of stick-to-it-ness, determination, they want instant gratification. We tend to live in a world where it’s “I want it now” and, in order to be successful they really have to work it through, and so it makes them better problem solvers, and I think also, creativity. Those are the skills modern day employers are looking for, it’s not so much content knowledge, it’s “Can you work on a team? Can you solve problems? Do you have this ability to follow through and complete the task?” So we’re trying to get the kids to think and behave that way.”

David Luchina serves as the other technology teacher at Northeast Middle School. Luchina said the robotics program is a lot of fun, and that the students love what they are doing.

“I think it’s a lot of team work,” said Luchina. “There is some competition, I think, amongst themselves to try to do the best they can, but at the same token I think it’s really the team work. A lot of these kids are sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and they wouldn’t normally talk to one another, they wouldn’t normally converse with one another, when they come here they have a commonality between them, and I think that really shines out when you see them that night of the competition.”

Ava LeBlanc is an eighth grader at Northeast, and said she joined the after school robotics program with her friends last year.

“I don’t remember much of it because I just had a lot of fun,” said LeBlanc of last year’s challenge, “I think that it’s good that they are teaching us to do this now, because this is our future.”

LeBlanc said she’s most looking forward to the hockey challenge because it will be really cool to play a sport with robots.

Sarah Mitchell, Community Communications Coordinator for the Board of Education, said that this year’s event will be themed after the Olympics, and will feature modified curling, ice hockey, and a biathlon as the three areas of competition.

“Each robot goes through the set of challenges, and whoever does it the best wins the competition,” said Mitchell. “We get local judges from the Bristol businesses, or other people who just happen to be really interested in robotics. They come in, go through a training, and they become the official judges. As of right now, we have two judges from St. Paul High School, a couple folks from Otis Elevator, Decruze Manufacturing, Justin Malley of the Bristol Development Authority, and one of the Bristol Eastern advisors for the class of 2020.”