• Student Life
Nine Robotics Teams Take On Year-Long Design Challenge

More Middle and Upper School students are participating on Robotics teams this year.

  • Clubs
  • Robotics
  • Student Life
  • Technology
By Nancy Schatz Alton, Writer/Editor

If you stop in the Makerspace before or after school, you’re likely to see a Robotics team in action. While it’s still early in the school year, the Middle School has gone from two teams of four students each to six teams; the Upper School added a third team. One of the Middle School teams is solely comprised of girls.

Robotics is a collaborative experience that challenges students’ problem-solving capabilities in pressure-filled situations. “Robotics offers students a hands-on way of learning from failure. After students spend weeks building a great-looking robot, they might have something that works well in practice. Then during competition, they realize their idea isn’t going to cut it. They see how other teams have solved issues and they have time to take the robot apart and fix it,” says Jeff Tillinghast, Robotics Club advisor and director of learning design and technology.

Freshman Maddie Harris loves competitions. “I like seeing everyone else’s different takes on robots. I also enjoy seeing how our robot does and how we react in different environments,” says Maddie, adding that competing in robotics has helped grow her patience. “It’s very frustrating and I feel very successful when I can program the robot to get to do what I want it to do.”

Tenth grader Andrew Bell appreciates how being on a team has strengthened his communication skills. “Everyone has to contribute in order for the team to be successful,” says Andrew.

Each team takes on a year-long challenge of designing their own robots within specific design constraints. Teams take their robots to competitions where they work collaboratively with other teams to earn combined scores before moving to head-to-head competition.

The first competitions for both Middle and Upper School teams happen in late November, although the teams will compete in UPrep’s first all-Pumas scrimmage in mid-October. Teams are currently in the research and development phase of building their robots while figuring out every team member’s role. “On every team of 4 or 5 students, there may be one programmer, while the bulk of the work is mechanical and structural,” says Jeff, who leads the younger students through the process of setting a weekly goal by asking teams where they want to be next week during club time.

The Robotic Clubs’ rapid expansion meant quickly purchasing more components and spending more funds on league and tournament fees. “Thanks to the generous Puma Fund supporters, we were able to increase our budget on the fly,” says Jeff. “It’s exciting to offer no-cut robotics and give all our students a chance to jump in.”

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