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Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Home Education School Robotics is making geek chic

Robotics is making geek chic

RoboticsBy Laura Barnhardt Cech

The robotics team is huddled around what looks like a small boxing ring. One teenager has out his laptop. Another holds a video game control, wirelessly moving a motorized tank toward a PVC pipe structure. A coach shouts, “… If there’s anything on the floor, we’re toast.”

This is pre-season in the newest competition to hit local high schools: robotics.

Instead of helmets, South River High School team members wear safety goggles. They use graph paper and computers, lawn-mower batteries, screwdrivers and calculators. But it’s every bit as consuming as varsity basketball or football.

“It’s a sport in many ways,” says Zachary Cohen, Technology and Engineering Education teacher at South River High School in Edgewater.

Students work as teams, creating robots with certain specifications to perform specific tasks, such as playing a rudimentary version of basketball. At regional competitions, the students put their robots into arenas, where their inventions are tested and judged, as fans cheer from the sidelines.

As schools push science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, robotics teams are growing in popularity.

There are currently more than 90 robotics teams in Maryland under the umbrella of a national organization called FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The number of FTC — FIRST Tech Challenge — teams, in particular, has grown rapidly over the past three years, from about 20 to more than 50, according to Bill Duncan, a FIRST regional director for Maryland.

The College of Southern Maryland organizes increasingly popular LEGO and VEX robotics competitions, with more than 900 elementary, middle and high students participating. And the Great Adventure Lab, a Wheaton-based company, offers after-school science and LEGO robotics classes in dozens of schools in DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

“…The robotics programs are really engaging and these programs are drawing in kids that might not have considered study in a STEM field otherwise,” says Bernice Brezina, Professor of Industrial Studies at the College of Southern Maryland.

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