Monday, June 11, 2012

DC Robotics

 What a GREAT story, as emailed to my friend Bob Compton (producer of many fantastic ed-related documentaries, including The Finland Phenomenon, Two Million Minutes, and A Right Denied – see: by his friend friend and DC engineering teacher, Anthony Priest:


It was a Saturday like any other, except that by the end of the day Wilson High School had become the first DC High School to EVER win a Regional Robotics Competition.

DC Public High Schools have competed in FIRST Robotics for 10 years, however this year was exceptional. This past weekend, March 30-31, the 4th annual DC Regional for the FIRST Robotics Competition was held at the DC Convention Center.  63 teams from all over the country participated - Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, and, of course, Virginia and Maryland were some of the 12 states represented. Among the field were 11 DC Public High Schools, and 3 DC charter schools.  Last year, no DC team finished in the top half of the rankings. This year the goal was to break into the top half with a few teams. We had no idea that one of our teams would earn a place in the Championship match, let alone WIN IT !!!

The competition this year was to design robots, which are the size of washing machines, to scoop up basketballs, shoot them at three different heights of basketball goals, and then balance on a see saw (with one or more other robots) at the end of the match. Baskets were worth 1, 2, and 3 points depending on the height of the goal. Balancing was worth 10 points per robot and the 3 minute matches frequently came down to the balancing portion as the clock counted down the time left. By Saturday, the wear and tear was beginning to show on the robots as several were toppling over while trying to balance, with the robots strewn about like a toddler's Tonka trucks.

After a day and a half of round robin play, Wilson High School was ranked 23rd and had hopes of being selected to join one of the 8 alliances.  As the draft entered its later rounds, the nervous Wilson team was elated to be chosen to join the #2 seeded alliance.  The 8 permanent alliances moved into the tournament portion to determine the overall champion. Wilson's robot had been cleverly designed for team play and was ideally suited for this environment. It would immediately cross over into the opponent's court and wreak havoc; frustrating the opposition by interfering with their shots, stealing their balls, and then at the end of the match consistently balancing on the see saw.

The tournament was not without its drama. Tournament rounds are best 2 out of 3 matches. In the first round the Wilson alliance lost a heart breaker 47 to 35.  However, in the 2nd match they improved and won 59 – 47.  This forced a 3rd and decisive match. A win here would put them in the Final Four. While the other team once again scored 47 points, the Wilson alliance continued to improve and dominated by scoring 66 points to win and advance to the next round.

In the semi-finals, the Wilson alliance won the first match only to learn it had to be replayed due to a wireless network communication issue.  However, Wilson's robot had suffered a bent axle and as panic was about to set in, the students were able to replace the axle and continue on.  In a low scoring match, the Wilson alliance barely lost as two of its robots capsized off each side of the see saw as time expired, once again forcing a 3rd and final match.  In the winner-take-all match, the scoring was back and forth with several lead changes, and the capacity crowd cheering with each.  As the seconds ticked off, two robots from Wilson's alliance were teetering on the see-saw, and the opposing alliance also had two robots teetering.  When the dust settled, the Wilson see-saw was stable, while the opponents' was not.  This secured the victory and the right to advance into the Championship match. Never before had a DC team come so far.

The Championship match pitted the #1 seed vs. the Wilson alliance, the #2 seed. Due to the way the draft works, the top two robots in the field were both on the #1 seeded team. Yet, as in so many things, teamwork is more important than firepower, and the Wilson robot provided the magic for their alliance.  The first match was frenzy of activity.  The swift robots of the #1 seed were hampered by the effective defensive tactics of the Wilson robot.  This secured a 54-39 victory putting the Championship just 1 win away.  In the second match, the Wilson alliance saved their best for last scoring 78 points, the second highest total in the two days of play.  The insurmountable total propelled the second seeded, underdog alliance to the title and sent the stands into a frenzy!  

Students, teachers and mentors from the other DC teams that had stayed to watch were jumping up and down with delight. Everyone was moved and inspired upon witnessing this historic event, for this was not just a win for Wilson, but for all of the DC Public Schools as it demonstrated that DC can compete and win.

Now, it's on to the World Championships in St. Louis, April 25 - 28. What an experience this will be for the students and the team.

People often ask me how I like the change from the classroom to the central office. This experience is an example of how I can positively impact more students and teachers than being in a single classroom.  By applying some project management skills where they are needed most, amazing things can happen. For example, beginning in August we held weekly 8 am conference calls. Through these we identified the needs, acquired resources (tangible and intangible, i.e. mentors), to create the environment necessary to facilitate the team's success. It was an absolute thrill to be involved, support and observe the Wilson High School students, teachers and mentors achieve this tremendous honor.

I would be remiss to leave out the amazing contributions of my good friend, Bob Compton. Early on we identified two DCPS teams to support and track throughout the year. What we learned from these teams we applied to the nine other DCPS teams in an effort to lift all to a competitive level. We were lucky enough to have a cameraman on hand to record this amazing experience at the DC Regional and will produce a short video. In the meantime, if you are interested in some of Bob's education documentary work, I suggest "2 Million Minutes" which compares the way two American high school students spent their time with two in China and two in India - a fascinatingly illuminating piece of work.

Final Round Robin Standings for DCPS Schools

School w/o Walls       14

Wilson                        23

Phelps                        29

CHEC                         31

Cardozo                     33

Coolidge                    40

Dunbar                       52

McKinley                    53

Anacostia                   57

Spingarn                    60

Luke C. Moore           61


 Subscribe in a reader