Central High Robotics Team Honored for Educational Outreach Work

Contact: Michael Johnson, RoboLancers Coach, RoboLancers@gmail.com, 267-666-0246.

UPPER DARBY, PA, MARCH 29, 2015 — The Central High School RoboLancers won the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) District Chairman’s Award at a competition at Upper Darby High School over the weekend, the most prestigious award given at that competition. The award identifies the RoboLancers as a “model team” that has worked over the last five years to grow the robotics program within Central High School from 10 student members to over 100 while also inspiring thousands of students of all ages throughout the region to explore STEM fields.

In a school district hard hit by budget cuts that have resulted in sharp reductions in science and engineering classes and programs in recent years, the RoboLancers have worked continuously to foster engineering and science education by mentoring younger teams in the city and hosting events for all levels of the FIRST program, from elementary to high school. They also host the annual Philly Robotics Expo (coming up on April 20 at the Singh Nanotechnology Center at the University of Pennsylvania), where hundreds of schoolchildren take robotics classes taught by the RoboLancers students and have the opportunity to meet and interact with other robotics teams and companies who come to exhibit their robots.

To compete for the Chairman’s Award, teams submit an essay and a short video explaining the impact of their team, then they make a presentation and are interviewed by a panel of judges. This year’s presentation team is comprised of seniors Stanley Umeweni and Maria Shayegan and junior Evan Aretz. You can view their video at: http://youtu.be/MgiFTv7zwWM

The RoboLancers FRC team will compete at one more district-level event on April 3–4 at North Brunswick High School in North Brunswick, NJ, before joining other qualified teams at the Mid-Atlantic Robotics Regional Championship on April 9–11 at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

In addition to presenting before a panel of judges in hopes of winning the Chairman’s Award for the whole mid-Atlantic region, the RoboLancers will continue to compete in the robot competition itself. The RoboLancers, like all FRC teams, had just six weeks, starting in January, to design and build their robots to play this year’s game, “Recycle Rush.” Objectives of the game include stacking large plastic totes, placing recycle bins on top of those stacks, and placing pool noodle “litter” in the recycle bins. During the first 15 seconds of each round, robots operate autonomously, following commands that the students have pre-programmed. Then for the remainder of the match, students operate the robots in real time via remote control.

All FIRST tournaments are free and open to the public. For more information on the FRC district tournaments and regional championship, see http://www.midatlanticrobotics.com/event-schedules/.

FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization founded by Dean Kamen which seeks to inspire students from K-12th grade to pursue and lead STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. Competitions such as FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition), FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge), and FLL (FIRST Lego League) blends the engagement of science and technology and the value of teamwork through friendly competitions with other FIRST teams while giving students rewarding experiences that follow them to whatever field they choose to pursue.

The Central High School RoboLancers is a FIRST Robotics Team founded in 1999. Starting with a small classroom of students, the team has now has grown to over 100 members. In addition to competing in multiple levels of competitive robotics events, the RoboLancers have helped mentor many teams across the Philadelphia region, including at Girls High School, Independence Charter School, G.W. Carver High School for Engineering and Science, and Martin Luther King High School, to raise awareness for the need of STEM education and occupations within Philadelphia and around the world. The RoboLancers have won many previous awards such as the Engineering Inspiration Award and traveled to the 2013 FIRST World Championship in St. Louis. The RoboLancers are growing, not only in their team but in their impact in the community; this Chairman’s Award is proof.

Special thanks to our wonderful sponsors: The Associated Alumni of Central High School, The Central High School Home and School Association, McKean Defense, Comcast, PTC, P’unk Avenue/Ignite Philly, Bresslergroup, and Johnsonville.

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Justin Glazman, Jonah Getz, and Mechanical Lead Kamal Carter in the pit

FLL Fun

What is more fun than working with robots?

Working with kids and the robots, of course. My job was to make the sure the rules were being followed, not to make the kids cry.  The scariest thing that happened to me in the morning when I overslept the clock, and came out with my ID, and toothbrush in my mouth. As I got off of the Broad Street Line, I met up with XYZ, former member of RoboLancer, as I dashed down the hill to get to the Event.

As I walked into the GYM, I was automatically reprimanded by Sabrina for being late, and not being aware of the rules. As I grabbed my referee shirt, I listened to the head referee, Jim, explain the rules to the referee. As I was half listening, I quickly analyzed the  arena. I noticed automatically, the arena there was more fun, and interesting object. As my job did not start until at 1:30, I  ran around as an errand boy, and casually officiate some of the practice games. As an errand boy, I learned each teams core value, and hopes were often were very different because one might to be score as much as possible, while the next team over might not want to score as much, but to act as a strong building block for the future to come and overlay on.

As the clock neared 1, I was almost constantly sent about to find this team, or relying messages as to what, and where something is happening. To make it even more comical, I even called somebody to inform them of the situation instead of walking up the stairs. When the clock dawned 1, I knew it was either make or break time because if I was not ready before the practice matches, I knew I sure won’t be ready right now. The first match was a mix of fun and nerves for not only the kids, but me also because I knew if I screwed up a game in this line up, it might mean whether they will be able to go to States or not, and I do not want to be the cause why they could not go to States.  However as the game progressed, I noticed either A) the teams wasn’t there or B) the referee watching over the game was somewhere else. As it was my duty to monitor the games, I picked up many games here and there, but lost some of the games here and there also. As the day dragged on, I began to feel increasingly tired, but I knew it was worth it, and the kids will be appreciative in the future.

FIRST LEGO League at Central High School

On January the thirty-first, Central High School hosted the ASPIRA FLL Qualifier. The volunteers and judges donned their uniforms and T-shirts, the concession stand was set up and the judging tables opened their doors. By 7:30 AM, the 15 participating teams had arrived and were situated in their pits, three had not attended. The procession began with “The Star-Spangled Banner” (slightly awkward because the gym lacked a flag). At about 8:30 AM, our master of ceremonies, Evan Aretz, cued the start of the presentation judging by playing the first casual song through the speakers. From this time to 12:45 PM, FLL teams prepared to and presented their opinions on how students should be taught in the 21st century to our judges. At 12:45 PM, the heart and soul of robotics arrived: pizza, approximately 50 boxes of it. At 1:30 PM, matched commenced, and Evan Aretz traded in his position as DJ to provide commentary for the matches. The vacant position was left to the scorekeepers. This commenced two hours of smooth FLL competing. While the judges reviewed the results of the competition, the audience and we, the volunteers, begin a dance party, taking music suggestions from the audience, eating leftover pizza, and enjoying ourselves. At about 4:30 PM, the event coordinator, Mr. Daniel Ueda, returned to announce the winners of the ASPIRA FLL Qualifier. After the announcements, the FLL teams left the tournament with “We are the Champions” by Queen playing behind them.

Congratulations to the participants and winners of today’s qualifying tournament. Good luck to those who are continuing on to the championships. Good job to all the volunteers; we had a few errors, but we solved them effectively and efficiently. To the organizers and sponsors of this event: Thank you for your support of this event. It was a great experience and very enjoyable.

Tesla Days 2014

The RoboLancers have been invited to present at the Tesla Days 2014 by the Nikola Tesla Inventors Club, an affiliate of the Tesla Science Foundation.

We will be making a presentation about our team, FIRST Robotics, and the importance of STEM Education in Philadelphia at the Main Branch of the Free Libarary of Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 9th, 2013, between 1:30 and 3:30 PM. WE also be demoing our 2014 FRC robot! Please join us for this interesting and informative presentation, which is free to the public.

Please email the RoboLancers at robolancers@gmail.com if you have any questions about this event.

Location:

1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Time:

In between 1:30 and 3:30 PM

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.

 

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

 

BY SIGNING THIS FORM YOU ARE SUPPORTING OUR PLATFORM.

Open Letter to Philadelphia

Dear Philadelphia,

The RoboLancers need your help.

There are many stories floating around about how the School District budget problems are going to affect the schools, the students, the community, and the teachers.  But there are personal stories in there as well.  Stories about good teachers losing their jobs, about students being pushed from a school they love during their senior year, about seniors scared about the college admission process without guidance counselors, about teachers getting pushed into situations they are not best qualified for.  Then there is our story.

This story is about how a robotics team of 80 students that has won multiple awards for their outreach, teaching Philadelphia students about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), that has traveled to international competitions, that raised over $30,000 in one week for a championship in St. Louis, that runs the popular Philly Robotics Expo during Philly Tech Week, and that sends 90% of its seniors on to engineering undergraduate programs, may not exist this year.

The reason this team may not exist is directly due to the ineffectiveness of the School District of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission and Governor Corbett.  That ineffectiveness has led to the following actions and proposals that is forcing me to consider shutting down our team:

  • I am being asked to take a 13% pay cut.
  • All funding for robotics programs including teachers’ salaries have been cut.
  • The district is seeking the power to move teachers from school to school.
  • I am being asked to work a longer work day.
  • We have been left with 1 nurse for 2500 students.
  • All guidance counselors have been laid off, eliminating opportunities for scholarships and making the college application process virtually impossible for my students.
  • I am being asked to switch from Physics to Math, take an additional class, and teach at least three different kinds of classes, all in violation of the current contract and all due to layoffs and budget constraints.
  • I am being asked to sacrifice my preparation periods for school operations.
  • Schools may not open on Sept. 9th.
  • Partial or full union strikes are looming.

As coach of the RoboLancers, I work very, very hard.  From January through April, I work 60-70 hours a week at school and then countless hours at home prepping for class, grading papers, and fundraising.  During the rest of the year, I routinely work 45-60 hours at school.  Yet, the District wishes to mandate I have a longer work day, take a pay cut, and work through my preparation periods.

I work with my team to raise $20,000 every year to pay for our expenses because the School District gives us absolutely no support.

I also work closely with Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania to help inspire students to go into STEM fields.  I go through constant professional development to improve my skills in the classroom and to offer as much as I possibly can to my students.  Yet, I am disrespected repeatedly by the Mayor and the Governor.

I was not paid for my work with the robotics team last year, just as many club coaches are not paid across the city.  I do this work because I care about my city and the kids in it.  Yet, Mayor Nutter and Governor Corbett say that I’m not sacrificing enough.

Now, with the decisions the School District, the School Reform Commission, and Governor Corbett have made, doing the work that I do with my students and with the City of Philadelphia may be impossible.

The School Reform Commission has failed this city and its School District.  Ten years of failed policies and decisions have led us to this point, a tipping point, and now this great city has to decide.

What kind of school system do you want?  Do you want a school system that supports programs like the RoboLancers and experienced teachers who work as hard as I do?  Or do you want to undercut our professionals and our kids by moving to a system that underpays inexperienced teachers and sees test results as the ultimate goal?

Philadelphia must take back control of its schools from the state.  Pennsylvania is benefitting from the move to a charter system, but Philadelphia is not.  Take a look at what is happening in Chicago.  That is our future if we don’t put our foot down and say enough is enough.

Please Philadelphia, I want to teach your kids.  I want my robotics program to continue thriving.  I want my students to keep getting jobs as freshmen in robotics labs at Drexel.  I want to help make this a better city to live in.  But I need your help.  Contact the Mayor, your council person, the Governor, and tell them to support your students, your schools, and your teachers.  Tell them to stop holding our children”s future ransom, to give them every opportunity they deserve.  Tell them to give control of the School District back to the city.

Thank you,
Daniel Ueda, BSME, MST
Physics Teacher and FIRST Robotics Coach
Geek of the Year nominee – 2013, Lindback Award Winner – 2013, Delaware Valley Engineers Week Science Teacher of the Year -2013
Central High School