Monday, February 27, 2017

Rigor, Relevance and Robotics

Back Row L to R: Craig HS Principal Alison Bjoin, Computer Science Teacher Janice Bain, Malcolm Eady, Andy Hermanson, Frank Breu, Ben Glowacki, Alexei Sapozhnikov
Front Row L to R: Harry Kubiak, Grace Clasen, Sophia Werner, Travis Duffy
There is a lot of talk about rigor and relevance in education. Sometimes the lessons come outside of regular classroom instruction.  A great example would be the Rock ‘n’ Robotics and the LEGO Robotics clubs hosted at our schools after school regular hours. Over the years, many students have participated in the clubs, achieving a level of success that other clubs envy. The clubs have been so influential that a class was developed to extend Robotics to all high school students as a course option for credit.  Classes are now being developed at the middle and elementary levels as a part of the expansion of the School District of Janesville’s STEM initiative.

Recently, the Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” programming team placed among the top 10 teams in the world in Zero Robotics. Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition for high school students sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Astronaut aboard the International Space Station working with the 2017 Zero Robotics Robots
Zero Robotics teams create code for small robots to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The robots, called SPHERES— roughly the size and shape of a basketball — run on compressed gas, and can be programmed to spin, revolve, hover, and navigate through the air. Researchers use SPHERES to test maneuvers for spacecraft by performing autonomous rendezvous and docking. They fly inside the ISS cabin autonomously  under the supervision of an astronaut. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing, and navigation equipment.

The games are played with units called SPACE SPHERES. Students were tasked to build surveying satellites that would orbit Mars. In the game, the satellite pieces were launched into orbit and teams programmed their spheres to collect these pieces into “assembly zones” to earn points. During the game, students had to be alert to rival teams intent on stealing the satellite pieces their team had already collected.

This year’s competition began in September 2016 with several phases. Both the Craig and Parker High School teams made it past the top 100 round, with the Craig team reaching the Alliance portion of the contest.  In this stage, they had to create an alliance with two other teams of high school students from at least one other continent. Craig’s Rock 'n' Robot team joined with the FermiFloating team from Italy and the ASIJAsteroids team from Japan.  The new team name became the Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance.

The alliance submitted their final code to MIT on January 6, 2017. The Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance reached the top 10, and were invited to the finals hosted at MIT on Friday, January 27, 2017. While there, they watched (via live transmission) their programming code utilized to fly the spheres and were judged by astronauts aboard the ISS.  Their competitors hailed from around the world, including teams from the USA, Europe, Romania, and Australia.

The students did amazing work, and put in a tremendous amount of effort in the competition. Their collaboration with peers from other countries, problem solving skills, and positive attitudes were essential in helping them reach the finals in this prestigious event.

The event was hosted by MIT faculty members and students learned from special guest speakers like 2010-2011 Astronaut Cady Colman as well as the engineering crew responsible for the Mars Rover.

The Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” team members for the Zero Robotics competition were: 

  • Lucas Dahlberg (12th grade)
  • Travis Duffy (12th grade)
  • Alexei Sapozhnikov (12th grade)
  • Sophia Werner (12th grade)
  • Frank Breu (11th grade)
  • Ben Glowacki (11th grade)
  • Andy Hermanson (11th grade)
  • Grace Clasen (10th grade)
  • Malcolm Eady (10th grade)
  • Harry Kubiak (9th grade)

The Robotics club and participating in the Zero Robotics competition are great opportunities for our students. They allow our students to showcase their knowledge while solving real-world problems through global collaboration with their peers from around the world.

At the final event at MIT, the Fermi-Astroid-Craig team first battled two other teams in a round-robin contest.  Each team had representatives that spoke to the audience and astronauts to explain their strategy during the competition. The world could watch the robots compete via live feed.

Craig lost the first match to Keppler-Hubble by 0.64 of a point which rounded to 17-16. Craig won the second match 13-10. At the end of their 3 team round-robin, Craig placed second to the Flying Falcons alliance. The three teams in the Craig pool scored:  32, 29.1 and 20.8 points respectively. Flying Falcons went on to take second place in the entire competition.  Although the team didn’t quite make the final two – Craig’s efforts , dedication and collaborations should be exemplified as a model for excellence to be imitated across all areas of education. The exposure to experts at MIT, NASA, ESA, and CASIS will help them as they pursue their interests and dreams long into the future.

Visit for details about the Zero Robotics contest. 

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