This fall, a team of SMMUSD student robotics enthusiasts will put their engineering skills to the test as they compete for a spot in the worldwide FIRST Tech Challenge championship.

The newly formed “RoboVikings” team, which began meeting weekly this fall at John Adams Middle School (JAMS), will be the district’s firstever group to enter the worldwide robotics competition.

“This is big step for our school in introducing innovative engagement opportunities in STEM related content areas,” JAMS Principal Steven Richardson said. “Beyond the alignment to 21st century skills, this pilot program will expose our students to the iterative engineering design cycle. Inherent in this process is the notion of learning from failure. This is an invaluable lesson to learn at this age and can be applied to all parts of our lives.”

The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is a widely accessible robotics competition for grades seven through 12 that promotes project-based learning using real-world math and science concepts.

FTC is one of the fastest-growing programs of its kind. An estimated 51,500 students on 5,150 teams around the world will participate in the FTC’s 2015/2016 season.

Santa Monica’s rookie group enters this season competing against well-established middle school and high school teams from around the region. “Win or lose, this is going to be a great experience for all involved,” Dr. Mohamed Abid, team coach, said.

Dr. Abid brings to the team a wealth of expertise from his years leading engineering projects at JPL and NASA. He served as mission chief engineer on JPL’s 2015 launch of the orbiting SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) observatory that measures the amount of water in the top 5 cm of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface. Dr. Abid also has received the NASA Honor Exceptional Achievement Medal for his work on the Ocean Surface Topography Mission that was successfully launched in June 2008.

“I am grateful to have the chance to teach, mentor and learn from these students while having fun at the same time,” Dr. Abid said. “These kids get to work together as a team, and get to design and execute solutions to complicated problems. This is fulfilling, as I believe the most rewarding toy is the one that you built yourself.”

FTC kicked off the 2015-16 season with an online game reveal on September 12. This year’s rescue-themed game, “FIRST RES-QSM,” is modeled after actual rescue situations faced by mountain explorers all over the globe. As robotics teams take the field together in alliances of two robots, competing alliances can score points by completing a number “rescue” tasks within a two-minute window: resetting rescue beacons, delivering climbers to a shelter, parking on the mountain and parking in the rescue beacon repair zone or floor goal. Robots may also score points by retrieving debris from the playing field and placing them in mountain or floor goals, and also by hanging from a pull-up bar during the last 30-seconds of a match.

To participate, the students on the RoboVikings team will design, build and program their own remote-controlled robot using a reusable, modular robotics platform. In addition to learning about mechanical and electrical design, throughout the season students will gain experience in computer coding, 3-D design, business plan development and team-building skills.

The JAMS Science Magnet Board is funding the launch of the RoboVikings team, paying for initial registration fees, building equipment and tools. Students also receive mentoring support from JAMS science faculty as well as parent volunteers with experience in design, engineering, programming and robotics.

“We’re committed to supporting learning opportunities that further enrich our science magnet students’ experience through innovative engagement that pushes the track of academic excellence,” Yunilda Esquivel, JAMS science magnet executive board president, said. “The response has been remarkable, and we’re excited to see the team grow for years to come.”

– Submitted by Gail Pinsker SMMUSD public relations officer

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