Tag Archives: STEM

When robots compete

Team TecBot from Toluca, Mexico cheers their robot and robot operators.

Photos and story by Daniel Friedman

See the update at the end of this post about the winners of the competition.

Just like at high school basketball game on a Friday night, the crowds were out, the mascot’s antics amused the fans and rallied the team, and the competition was fierce. Unlike a basketball game, most of the players can turn pro.

Teams set up their robots at the beginning of the match. For the first 15 seconds the robots rely only on programming to shoot baskets.

It was the Arizona Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at Hamilton High School in Chandler, featuring teams from all over the Southwest as well as Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

Phoenix Country Day School team members watch their robot before they take control.

For the first 15 seconds the robots must operate autonomously on programming installed in their on-board computer to make as many baskets as they can. Then team members operate them remotely, picking up basketballs and shooting them into the four levels of hoops. To get more points, for the last 30 seconds of the two-minute contest, a red team robot and a blue team robot can share the white, middle ramp to win cooperation points. After this round teams choose another team to work with.

The Scottsdale Coronado High School team operates their robot.

There is a thick notebook of rules and regulations and several referees to keep track of the contest. One thing is certain, everyone was having a great time, fixing robots, reprogramming them, cheering for their team and hoping their robot survives the competition.

Sometimes robots don't survive the match and must be repaired before the next round.

The Notre Dame Prep team worked intently to repair their robot. Teams have six weeks to design and construct their robots before they are "bagged", sealed in a container, to prevent additional engineering. They can work on them in the pit area during competition but they can't continually refine their designs between regional competitions.

The Tempe High School team working on their machine. Laptops are used to write the software that is uploaded into the robots to run them during the first part of each match.

The pit area isn't all work. The Coconino High School team's spirit table, was decorated with their mascot, a squirrel, as well as memorabilia from past competitions and descriptions of their robot.

Team mascots were out in force.

As one would expect from a bunch of engineers, some mascots were more complex than others. This looks like a gila monster so it could be the General Motors/Arizona Western Colleges/jcpenney/ Yuma Union High School District mascot.

Kidron Gage from Coconino High School in Flagstaff volunteered to help out at the competition.

A blue robot waits for a red robot to balance on the white bridge, thus earning cooperation points.

UPDATE: The Carl Hayden High School Robotics team won the FIRST Arizona Regional Robotics competition for the second year in a row. Check out this video of the final match.

The Falcons finished with a match record of 10-1 in qualifying rounds, the second-best record among the 50-team field. They formed an alliance with teams from Toronto, Canada and Seton Catholic High School of Chandler.

The Carl Hayden team coached by Fredi Lajvardi, will go to the International FIRST Competition in St. Louis, April 25-28.

Carl Hayden team members are Joach Avitia, Elizabeth Perez, Isabel Martinez, Carlos Ruvio, Ulises Barazza, Martin Carranza, Sergio Corral, Daisy Fernandez, Dillon Dayea, Jesus Meraz, Maria Castro, Bianca Rodriguez, John Rangel, Iselea Martinez, Jorge Tay, Quenan Aaron Ruiz, Diserae Sanders, Dalton Dayea, Jesus Parra, Elizar Diaz, Cruz Garcia, Staphany Ramirez.

The Falcons named this year’s robot, “Angelica’s DREAM” to honor Angelica Hernandez, an alumna of the program who is now a mechanical engineer after graduating as the Outstanding Engineering Student at ASU last year.

April 12 Update:

From a April 10, 2012 Phoenix Union High School District news release:

The Betty H. Fairfax High School Robotics team was a member of the winning alliance in the FIRST Robotics Las Vegas Regional competition, April 5-7  in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has qualified for the International FIRST Robotics Championships in St. Louis, April 25-28.

It is the first time a Phoenix Union team has won a regional outside of Arizona, and only the second PUHSD school to win a regional (Carl Hayden has won Arizona Regionals in 2011 and 2012.)  The Las Vegas Regional included 42 teams from Nevada, California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico.

Betty Fairfax and Carl Hayden will represent PUHSD in the FIRST International Championships later this month at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.   This will be Fairfax’ second trip to the Internationals.  In its first-ever regional, four years ago, the team won the Rookie All Star Award and was invited to the International competition in Atlanta.


Engineering the education of future engineers

Too few students are becoming engineers or working in scientific fields. A Wall Street Journal article from Nov. 2011, Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay describes how students may start college intending to become engineers but lack the motivation or skills to meet the rigorous curriculum or choose other fields offering more pay.

The article states, “Research has shown that graduating with these majors (engineering and science) provides a good foundation not just for so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs, or those in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, but a whole range of industries where earnings expectations are high.” Non-STEM fields seek people with quantitative skills and may pay more the than the engineering jobs.

Engineers create our technological gadgets. Science Foundation Arizona hopes to persuade more students to become engineers. photo: Steve Jurvetson-Flickr.com

But students are not prepared for college science or mathematics. Less than half of the graduating high school seniors were ready for college math and less than a third were prepared for college science courses according to an ACT report cited in the article.

Ironically, high-tech gadgets designed by engineers are embedded in the lifestyles of high school and college students, yet they choose not to pursue a career to make the gadgets and software, and perhaps earn a fortune they doing so.

Science Foundation Arizona has established the Arizona STEM Network to increase the number of students interested in STEM fields, increase student achievement, and hopefully inspire them to pursue STEM majors in college.

The Science Foundation of Arizona will manage the Arizona STEM Network to increase teacher effectiveness, get businesses involved in the schools, increase the amount of STEM learning and activities in schools and keep track of what initiatives works and their impact.

They have a five-year plan they hope will change the course of the state’s economy by increasing the number of citizens trained in science and engineering fields to attract employers seeking people with those skills.

Robotics at Carl Hayden Community High School

Dean Kamen, shown above with the Carl Hayden Community High School robotics team, is the inventor of the Segway and the creator of FIRST  (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competitions. He came to Carl Hayden Community School yesterday for “A Morning of Robotics” as part of the statewide SciTech Festival.

Several high schools brought their robots and students waited eagerly to talk with Kamen, who answered questions and signed autographs.

Austin Patton and Adam Winters of the Highland High Robotics team in Gilbert check the height of the basket on their robot. The robot must be able to scoop up a ball and then raise it as high as possible. Ten points are awarded for every six inches of elevation. Their robot can lift the ball eight feet, four inches.

The Falcon Robotics Team at Carl Hayden High School practiced with their robot. It can suck up basketballs and shoot them into hoops set at different heights. The mechanism that shoots the basketballs isn't installed on this version of the robot which is used strictly for practice. The official, complete entry into the contest is set aside for the actual competition.

Future Cities, 3-D models and aliens

Story and photos by Amy Vogelsang

Student-built 3-D models of cities are on display until 5pm today and during final events Saturday as part of the Future City Competition Arizona Region.

The competition introduces students to engineering as teams design and build their versions of  urban life in the future. Sponsored by the National Engineers Week Committee, the Future City Program takes place in more than 30 regions.

Part of the competition requires students to build three-dimensional models of their proposed cities. Students are challenged to build models within restricted measurements and must include one moving part. The amount spent on the project must not exceed $100.

Since the start of this competition 15 years ago, the Arizona region is the only one to offer a free public exhibition of the models. The models have been on display all week at Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. Hours are 9am to 5pm and there is no charge to attend.

“It is interesting to see how the student models have evolved over this time,” region PIO Vi Brown said in a press release. “Models were very simplistic in design the first few years. However, as the schools and teachers became more experienced with the competition’s requirements, I’ve noticed more attention to details and creativity. The students’ models of today definitely reflect a more futuristic looks.”

The student groups who created the displays will each give presentations and have their work judged at the Future City finals, on Saturday, Jan. 28 at ASU Preparatory Academy, 735 E. Fillmore in Phoenix. The Arizona Region program will begin at 8 a.m. The competition is free and open to the public.

Bringing with him a wealth of knowledge about Mars and a distinct opinion on aliens, Randii Wessen, deputy manager for the Project Formulation Office at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will be the featured guest speaker.

Wessen is an astronautics systems engineer working in the field of planetary explosion, an experimental economist and author. He is currently working on the next Mars Rover Project at JPL, and will be sharing his knowledge with middle school students and parents in order to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

Wessen will work with students to build meteors using dry ice, then discuss the next Mars Rover and space exploration at lunch. In the afternoon he will be a judge for the competition finals, helping to select a first place team for the region.

“Given his wealth of knowledge, infectious humor and a love of working with youth, we are excited to have Dr. Wessen,” Arizona Region Coordinator Mike Andrews said in a press release.

The Future of our cities in students’ hands

On Saturday, Jan. 28, middle school students competing in the 15th Future City Competition in Arizona will bring their finished models to be judged, hoping to move on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. during National Engineers Week.


The Navajo Generating Station is a coal-fired plant outfitted with millions of dollars of technology to clean its emissions. Future City challenges students to find solutions to our electrical needs while conserving resources and protecting the environment. Photo: Alex E. Proimos, Flickr.com.

The Future City website says the competition “encourages middle school students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by presenting a set of technical challenges over a four-month season that each three-student team must address, culminating at regional finals in January.”

The technical challenge this year is to “choose one alternative energy source and design a way to generate electric power for your city that does not deplete natural resources and has limited impact on the environment.” No easy task when our gadget-centric lifestyle demands constant, inexpensive electricity.

The three-student teams work with a volunteer engineer who guides them through the process, which includes a research paper and the city model. The competition is open all middle school students through their schools. The Future City Arizona website has resources for students and teachers as well as the volunteer engineers necessary for the project.

Gamers, write your own

Kids play a lot of video games, logging hours and days getting to “the next level.” Challenge your gamers to design their own games and win prizes. Designing and creating a game is far more complex than playing one.

Playing games involves strategy, tactics, skills, spatial reasoning and ability to predict future events. Even the kids you see below, playing marbles in 1919, had to decide which marble to shoot and their likely chances of success. As simple as marbles was, it took its own skills and mental processes.

Ohio children in 1919 playing marbles. photo: Library of Congress

Designing video games takes creative reasoning skills to create the layers and branches of a game. The game has to be plotted out, designed and tested to keep the player entranced and entertained.

The 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge is designed to create interest in Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. If nothing else, there are jobs to be had and money to be made in the game industry.

There are categories for middle school, high school and college students, with prizes in each category. Educators have their own category. Each age category includes a challenge from PBS Kids and the Corporation for Public broadcasting to create games for younger kids.

There are five gaming platforms entrants can use or they can submit ideas in written form. But get your gamer kid to learn a platform and enter the contest. What better way to get them to put down that ding-dang game console and do something constructive?

Xavier recognized at JET TEAMS competition

The engineers of the future: Xavier's JETS teams took first place in their division.

Two teams of students from Xavier College Preparatory participated in the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) Technology, Engineering, Applied Math and Science (TEAMS) competition last month at Arizona State University.

The Xavier teams participated in the 9-10 category for high school freshman and sophomores, and the 11-12 category for high school juniors and seniors. Participating high schools were placed in divisions based on the size of the senior class as well as the admissions criteria. Both Xavier teams placed first in their divisions.  The 9-10 team also won runner-up in the spirit competition.

The JETS TEAMS program is an annual high school competition challenging students to work collaboratively and apply their math and science knowledge in practical, creative ways to solve real world engineering challenges. After participating in TEAMS, students increase their knowledge of engineering, feel more confident about participating in engineering activities and increase their ability to work with others to solve complex problems. In recent years, countless reports have identified troublesome science and math achievement gaps in America, and signaled the need for renewed efforts to cultivate a competitive 21st century workforce. These reports point to the necessity of programs that foster STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) literacy in effective ways, and across a broader range of young people. The TEAMS Competition helps develop “STEM-capable” students in an engaging way by showing them how math and science, with an engineering focus, are used to make tangible differences in the world.

“What impressed me the most is the determination the girls showed applying problem-solving skills,” says Janet Mambrino, JETS/TEAMS faculty moderator at Xavier. “They did not give up when faced with complex problems. Instead, they worked together and kept plugging away until they were successful, walking away with a feeling of pride at their accomplishment.”

Focused on a theme each year, original academic and innovative concepts are developed for the competition based on the National Academy of Engineering‘s Grand Challenges. Tackling these challenges requires critical job-readiness skills such as collaboration, analytical thinking and multidimensional problem-solving. Students in the 2011 competition worked on the challenge of energy and the global need for diversification, efficiency, security and ecological sustainability.