Henry Lilien, left, and Theo Klein competing for the I.S. 89 robotics team last weekend at Javits Center. The school came in sixth out of 88 teams.
Downtown robotics team scrambles to finish strong
I.S. 89’s robotics team organized by Manhattan Youth competed in the NYC FIRST LEGO League Championship at the Jacob Javitts Center on Mar. 14, placing sixth out of 88 teams for their research project. The team had eight sixth and seventh graders, accompanied by science teacher Stephen Husiak.
The Cougars are in their third year at I.S. 89, but this is the first time the school has made it to the regional competition. The students began preparing for the competition last September, spending up to nine hours a week building robot prototypes and programming them to complete several missions. About half of the students said they knew nothing about robotics before joining the club, while the other half had limited knowledge. Throughout the year, they learned how to create a program on the computer and then transfer it to the robot. “How many times did we have to go back and forth changing the program until it was right?” Husiak asked the students, to which they replied, “Thousands of times!”
Not only did the programming change often, there were many redesigns of the robot itself. After the qualifying event in January, the team realized that they had to make major changes to their robot and virtually built a new one from scratch. On the day of the final competition, the students missed the opening ceremonies as they scrambled to make last minute changes because of the difference in the floor surface.
In addition to their robot’s performance, the students were judged on their teamwork and research project. Their topic was how to make subway travel safer and more efficient, in accordance with the competition’s transportation theme, and their solution was to provide riders with underground cell phone access.
“It allows you to contact 911 if there is an emergency. You can also go to mta.info to get information on subway changes and the M.T.A. can send you a text message if there is an emergency so that you can follow steps to get out safely,” explained Theo Klein, a seventh grader.
The months spent working towards the competition seemed to have a very strong impact on the students. Many indicated that they are now interested in becoming engineers or doing work with computers. Everyone said they were looking forward to learning more robotics and competing in next year’s competition. “I want to go to Stuyvesant and watch those kids making the really intense robots,” said Henry Lilien, a seventh-grade team member.
The Stuyvesant High School team, a perennial power and I.S. 89’s Battery Park City neighbor, won the high school division at Javits and will compete in the national tournament next month.
Husiak emphasized that the process was an important learning experience for the I.S. 89 students, who had the chance to work towards a goal while continuously confronting setbacks and overcoming them. “It was such a real life experience that you just can’t get in school sitting in a classroom,” said Husiak. “I don’t think they even understand yet how much this is helping them prepare for [the real world].”
— Kristin Shiller