My Experience at the Philly Science Festival

Yesterday the RoboLancers went to the Philly Science Festival to show off our FRC and FTC Robots and talk about STEM Education and FIRST Robotics. Our booth was placed across the Franklin Institute. We had to set up our booth from 7:45 A.M to 10:00 A.M. Right before the event officially started when there was no crowd we did practice drives with our robot on the closed off street.

As soon as the festival started a crowd formed around our booth as we demonstrated our robot. I was busy in the booth talking about the team, STEM, and FIRST. We decided to start an emailing list for people who were interested in starting a team or getting their children involved. I really hope we can get some new FIRST teams started in the city.

When I wasn’t at our booth I was busy looking at all the different booths. While walking around I found the Friere’s RoboDragons and SLA’s FRC team. My favorite booth was probably the booth where you could make homemade ice cream.

I hope that we can participate in the festival next so that we can help spark an interest about FIRST Robotics for some of the people who visited our booth.

(Photo: Rachelle Potente)



Philadelphia Science Festival

Arriving at the Robolancers booth at 7:30, I could feel the weather would shape out to be a great day for us. Hank arrived with the robots and booth supplies, and we started to unload everything from the car that was packed ever so meticulously in order to fit everything we needed. After the booth was all set up and more Robolancers started to show up we did some joy-riding with the FRC robot. This carried on till sectors started to arrive, then I was off to the FTC field.

The field was hectic at first, from connection issues to missing supplies to broken robots and impatient lines, Andy, Jonah and I had a lot in our hands. But after sorting everything out the day went smoothly… for a while at least. We were forced to settle with only one robot running to demo at a time to my much pleasure, Crimson was among them. Its late  but Crimson worked and unlike gold, we found out that it was quiet childproof.

It was a pleasure explaining the FIRST program and FTC to the interested parents as the kids drove around the field. In the end the line moved smoothly, both Crimson and Gold were being switched in and out of operation and everyone was happy. It’s amazing to see just how smart some of the kids were and interested in robotics.Overall, it was a great day, and hopefully we sparked an interest for some of the kids who visited us.


Chestnut Hill FRC Regional

Hi all, it has been a while since my last blog post.

The RoboLancers recently participated in the Springside Chestnut Hill FRC District competition on the 14th and 15th of March. I have previously been a part of the drive team for off-season events – Ramp Riot and Duel on the Delaware, however it was my first time being part of the drive team for an actual qualifying competition. My position was the coach of the drive team. This experience was exciting and a little stressful. Being able to strategize with other teams and being up front and watching the robots competing on the field was amazing. After this competition, I am very looking forward to the Lenape-Seneca regional this week. Hopefully the team will be able to yield better results this competition.


Chestnut Hill District Competition

On March 14th and 15th the RoboLancers attended the FRC Chestnut Hill District Competition. In the previous year I was able to attend this competition, however, this year was my first time as a member of the pit crew. I had the opportunity to work on the mechanical aspects of the robot, repair various complications that had occurred with the robot, and prepared the robot to compete in the field.

Last year I was able to see the competition from a different perspective. I witnessed the different teams and robots compete out on the field and the illuminating spirt that was rendered through the teams. This year I was allowed to participate in the action that occurs behind the scenes. Pit crew was chaotic, everyone scampered to ready the robot for the matches. The mood was high paced and stressful. When in the pit, one is able to ultimately understand that the robot is never thoroughly complete.

Although our robot did not function to its full potential. I have to admit that being a part of the pit crew was one of the most extraordinary experiences I was able to be a part of. I am optimistic about the improvements that our team has decided to make on the robot and am excited and looking forward to attending next week’s Lenape-Seneca Regional Competition.

– Melissa

FRC Competition

On March 15th, we headed to Chestnut Hill for the FRC competition with our FRC counterpart of the team. Some of us had to carpool to get there, but when we got there, we were excited for the things to come. Our team worked hard for our robot, and the Robolancers had a great time interacting with other teams, from mascots to chatting during lunch and down time.

Our robot played defense with it’s speed as it tackled robots and denied points for the other team. However, we dropped to the lower ranks as other teams overcame us. Although we are not the best team, we are rapidly improving and even as we dropped down, we still saved face and cheered for the other Alliances and finalists.

Overall we had a great time together, and it was a great event. Together with our teammates, we cheered, laughed, and collected a ton of pins and badges. We won the Judges award, and so Callan, Stanley, and Etienne will be presenting for Chairman’s again next week at Lenape. We’ll be looking forward to things to come, and learning from our mistakes. Some of us are really good dancers too.


FTC States Competition [Crimson Edition]

On 3/1/14, 40 Robolancers, 20 Crimson, 20 Gold, went to Millersville University to participate in the FTC competition.

When we first arrived there, we set down everything and were calm. However, when we actually saw other people’s robots, we were amazed at how creative and amazing their designs were.  One of the robots even shot out blocks, similar to a cannon. We couldn’t really compete with them, having rebuilt and changed our entire robot in about 2 weeks, but we did try anyway. We came 27th place out of 37 teams, which wasn’t too bad actually. Although our original idea was to have the robot spin the flag, and THEN hang, we ended up only spinning the flag due to a silly mistake that no one noticed until the competition was over.

One of the things that really amazed me and made me smile were the costumes other teams had. I thought our Rock ’em Sock ’em costumes were ridiculously creative, but then I saw dragon costumes, viking costumes, a gorilla costume, and even a giant banana costume as well.

I really loved the team spirit there. Moe (the team that has everything colored in an unbearably bright green) was the team that I thought really had the most team spirit. Not that we didn’t try to compete with them in team spirit, though. Throughout that entire competition, Gold was basically cheering “Red Alliance!” while Crimson always cheered for the opposite team.

Even though we didn’t win, it was still a lot of fun, and an enjoyable learning experience that we hope to pass onto future FTC members that may be interested in Robotics.


New RoboLancers Roundtable!

Read Here-RoboLancers Roundtable Volume VI – February 2014

Dear Sponsors, Donors, and Supporters:

This newsletter is dedicated to you because we want to share with you what you have so generously shared with us. By this newsletter, we want to bring to you a little bit of what it means to be a member of this amazing team. We want to fill you in on what we’re doing, provide some of our own personal stories, and share with you our many accomplishments.

As the competitions approach, we would like to cordially invite you to join us at these fun, educational events. Bring family and friends and join us at our two FRC regional qualifying events. The first event is at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (500 W.Willow Grove Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118) from March 14-15, 2014. The second event is at Lenape/Seneca High School (110 Carranza Road, Tabernacle, NJ 08088) from March 22-23, 2014. Don’t forget to wear crimson and gold, our team colors. We look forward to seeing you there!

In addition, both of our FTC teams will be advancing to the PA FTC Championship Tournament to be held at Millersville University (Millersville, PA 17551) on March 1, 2014. We also would like to invite you to come out and support us at that event as well.

In the meantime, please read more about how we have been preparing for the competitions by enjoying this edition of the RoboLancers’ Roundtable. We hope you enjoy reading about our learning, progress, and fun times, which without your support we would not be able to accomplish.

Happy Reading,

The RoboLancers

RoboLancers Platform to Save Robotics Programs and Public Education in Philadelphia

We, the members of Central High School’s RoboLancers, FIRST Robotics Team #321, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the “RoboLancers”), recognize the impact of inadequate funding to public schools and the deficits caused by the budget crisis in education.  The current budget crisis negatively impacts every public school student and educator in the City of Philadelphia.  As an organization affected by this crisis, we wish to make a statement to our School District and our local and state government:

WHEREAS, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), the School Reform Commission (SRC), Mayor Michael Nutter, and Governor Tom Corbett have created and/or otherwise facilitated a $300 million deficit through budget cuts, mismanagement, and squandering of federal funds; and

WHEREAS, this deficit has forced Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. (Dr. Hite), to place extreme austerity measures into effect in the public schools within the SDP; and

WHEREAS, the SRC has all but expressed its intention to dismantle the School District, by “[closing] 40 schools next year and an additional six every year thereafter until 2017,” leaving only “20 to 30 schools [to] be placed into ‘achievement networks’ where public and private groups would compete to manage the networks” (Thomas Knudsen, Chief Recovery Officer for the SRC, May 2013);

WHEREAS, these extreme austerity measures have led to the following conditions at Central High School, as well as most schools in the SDP:

  • Oversized classrooms with as many as 47 students per class;
  • A lack of guidance counselors, nurses, non-teaching assistants, librarians, assistant principals, school operations officers, and secretaries;
  • Effective and beloved teachers being laid off;
  • Teachers being forced to teach outside of their appointed area;
  • Support staff (deans, department chairs, activity sponsors) being forced to teach full course loads, eliminating their only form of compensation and their ability to complete their duties;
  • Classes being held in auditoriums;
  • The elimination of the mentally gifted program;
  • Insufficient textbooks at the start of the year;
  • A closed and therefore inaccessible library; and
  • The ending of many programs exclusive to Central High School, including the advanced research program and the incredibly popular shadow program;

WHEREAS, Dr. Hite, the SDP, and the SRC are negotiating with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) for the following concessions by the teachers:

  • A longer school day;
  • The elimination of preparation periods;
  • The elimination of a 33 minimum class size; and
  • Pay cuts as high as 13% for overworked teachers;

WHEREAS, all funding for robotics-related programs was eliminated in 2011;

WHEREAS, the students who make up the RoboLancers have become disenfranchised by the actions being implemented by the SDP, SRC, the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of Pennsylvania, which actions can only be described as failures and which the media so emphatically states will cause the demise of public schools in Philadelphia;

WHEREAS, the RoboLancers recognize that these decisions have already led to a reduction in robotics programs in Philadelphia public schools and could lead to their complete eradication.

WHEREAS, the RoboLancers believe the education that students receive in project-based programs like robotics provide opportunities for a more in-depth, comprehensive understanding of subjects than traditional preparation for standardized exams like the Pennsylvania Keystone Tests.  In programs like these, students gain:

  • self-confidence;
  • leadership ability;
  • the ability to work in a team;
  • public speaking;
  • a strong sense of achievement;
  • lifelong enthusiasm for learning;
  • business, marketing, organization, and time management skills;
  • real analytical problem-solving experience;
  • achievement of Common Core Standards; and
  • an appreciation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields; and

WHEREAS, programs such as robotics should be the backbone of a 21st century education.  In Dr. Hite’s words, “[T]his (the RoboLancers’ robotics) program is the ‘perfect’ lesson plan because it engages children in the types of things that will face them within a global economy.”  In President Barack Obama’s words, “[W]e need to encourage our kids and invest in their education. We need to give them the chance to become the next generation of scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs.”

NOW, THEREFORE, the RoboLancers of Central High School hereby announce their support for a four-point formula, which is set out below, that is absolutely a requirement for the sustainability of their program, programs like theirs, and, more importantly, quality education in the City of Philadelphia.  The following immediate steps must be taken in the contract negotiation process with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers:

1.  The extension of the school day must occur only if complete freedom is given to teachers and students to participate in extracurricular activities during that extended time;

2.  STEM robotics funding must be reinstated by the SDP, including support for competitions, training for students and coaches, late night transpasses for students similar to that which is provided to members of sports teams, and weekend building access;

3.  The incorporation of the benefits of project-based learning activities in any new teacher evaluation system, especially where it affects student achievement that is not measurable on a standardized exam; and

4.  The accommodation and compensation for robotics coaches, including free use of preparation periods and extracurricular pay commensurate with athletics’ coaches.

FURTHERMORE, the following serious issues with far-reaching significance must be addressed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to provide the power and resources to the SDP necessary to revitalize public education in the City of Philadelphia:

1.  Establish an elected Board of Education in Philadelphia and repeal Act 46 – Philadelphia is the only municipality in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which does not have a city-controlled Board of Education.  State government has failed to improve Philadelphia public schools since Act 46 was passed in 1998, when control of the district was transferred to the Commonwealth in the form of the School Reform Commission and collective bargaining was threatened.  The RoboLancers support State Representative Mark Cohen’s proposal to establish an elected Board of Education in Philadelphia.

2.  Establish Fair Funding Legislation – There is extreme inequity in the per-pupil funding in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Many suburbs surrounding Philadelphia spend between 150% and 200% more per pupil than SDP schools.  It is the job of the state government to assure equitable funding throughout the state to prevent separate and unequal education.  The RoboLancers support the efforts of Mayor Michael Nutter and State Representative Jim Roebuck in this regard.

3.  Other Reforms – In addition to the foregoing specific remedies, the RoboLancers suggest our government leaders focus on a variety of additional measures, which would translate into providing additional funding for the SDP:

        a.      Land Value Tax Reform – Land Value Tax Reform is a developing movement in the country that has caused economic growth in many municipalities, including Pittsburgh, Altoona, and Harrisburg.  Land Value Tax Reform would inspire development of vacant land, shift the tax burden from the middle class, and provide additional resources for education.  Philadelphia must take control of its finances in order to alleviate dependence on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The RoboLancers support the Center for the Study of Economics and their proposal for Land Value Tax Reform.

        b.      Tax Gas and Oil Production – Except for an “impact fee” which Governor Corbett promises is not a real tax, Pennsylvania, the only state with huge deposits of oil and gas, does not impose a tax on gas and oil production.  Therefore, according to a January 2013 PEW report, Pennsylvania is bringing in far less revenue from drilling than its rivals.  Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2014 gubernatorial race, wants to tax natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale at 5%, using the money to invest in education and transportation infrastructure.  The RoboLancers support a tax on natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale, using the revenue to invest in education.

c.      Moratorium on Charter School Expansion – In April 2013, Dr. Hite stated:  “It would be irresponsible for the District to endorse charter expansion while asking our principals to do the impossible with school budgets.”  Despite a 2010 RAND study and a 2009 CREDO study showing charter schools perform no better on average than traditional public schools and cost taxpayers the same amount per pupil, charter funding in Philadelphia for 2014 will top $700 million and accounts for about 30 percent of the SDP’s operating budget.  Charter schools have expanded well beyond their original chartered populations, pulling resources from the SDP as they do.  The RoboLancers support a moratorium on charter school expansion.

Your support is requested for the RoboLancers’ platform because the alternative is unimaginable both for the present and future students of Philadelphia and indeed all of its citizens.  By affixing your signature below you are showing your support of public education, for which the RoboLancers are very grateful.

* * * * * *

The RoboLancers

Who We Are

The RoboLancers are a student-operated, adult-mentored robotics program based out of Central High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The program was founded in 1999 as FIRST Robotics Team #321 and included five students from the school. Since then, the program has evolved into a multi-faceted organization of more than 60 students and 9 adult mentors that – with a $20,000 per year budget – competes in two to three competitions, hosts various STEM training and outreach programs around the city, and has become a shining example of what students in a struggling urban setting can do if given the opportunity.  The RoboLancers received three Engineering Inspiration awards last year for their work inspiring students to enter STEM fields.  They also traveled to the FIRST World Championships for the first time in 2013.

What We Do

The RoboLancers provide students with a complete immersion in STEM problem solving.  Students are given hands-on engineering experience as they work in teams to solve electrical, mechanical, and programming problems. Students work with solid modeling programs, programming languages, web design software, and control systems. The students themselves then use this gained knowledge to inspire other students in Philadelphia to become interested in STEM fields through various school and community events; including hosting the Philly Robotics Expo, mentoring at FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FIRST Lego League (FLL) events, building robots for theater groups, participating in a documentary about high school robotics teams, and demonstrating their robots at district schools and STEM awareness events.

Our Goals

A primary goal of the RoboLancers is to work with the students in Central High School, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), and the greater Philadelphia area to inspire their involvement in STEM and computer science fields.  The program is unique in that it empowers those disadvantaged and underrepresented populations on a small scale in order that they themselves may engage those populations on a larger scale.  Other program goals include the following:

  • To inspire every individual that builds with, learns from, cheers for, or hears about the team to have confidence in themselves and in their future
  • To spark students’ interest in STEM and computer science within the School District and the City of Philadelphia, and ultimately produce young adults who contribute to the community, country, and world in STEM fields
  • To prepare students for enrollment in higher education with an interest toward obtaining engineering, computer science, and other STEM related degrees
  • To foster a positive self-image, leadership skills, teamwork and moral behavior among Philadelphia students
  • To transform the image of Philadelphia to one which is a hub for advanced technology through various partnerships with local businesses and universities