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Charles Dershimer: It’s not (only) about the robot

IMG_9669A recent GPO joint parent forum  provided everyone attending  the chance to experience how the Greenhills’ FIRST robotics teams helps students learn new skills through problem solving and innovation and discuss how being a member of the team helps prepare students for life after graduation.

Teacher mentors Damian Khan of the middle school team and Charles Dershimer and Alex Monte-Sano of the upper school team facilitated an interactive session that immersed parents in several activities designed to simulate what it is like to participate in — and learn from — a robotics competition. Parents were introduced to the goals of FIRST robotics, through the video documentary RoboLeague, which features program founders Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers describing how the program is about more than just building robots.

Kamen and Flowers designed the program to use the excitement of competition “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills.”

To help parents develop empathy for how a competition develops self-confidence, communication, and leadership, parents got a chance to participate in the team based “marshmallow challenge.” Parent teams had 18 minutes, a limited set of materials, and defined rules to build a free-standing structure that raised a single marshmallow the greatest distance off a table. Excitement ensued as parents introduced themselves to their new team members, shared ideas, and raced against the clock to experience both failure and success as they designed different solutions to reach their goal.

During the debrief discussion, Mr. Monte-Sano described how making and learning from mistakes is an important part of being on the team, and that the team embraces a “prototyping culture” that allows students to make objects to help them think about solutions to problems. He showed several examples of student prototypes that represent how building solutions and embracing mistakes helps build student self-confidence with learning through doing.

The event ended with a student panel of members of the upper school robotics team, the Lawnmowers, discussing how being a member of the team has enhanced their experience at Greenhills and extended what they are learning in the classroom. Catherine Ferrey, Ramya Chigurupati and Robert Keller talked about chances to enhance their leaderships skills. Zachary Brustman and Katie Ballard talked about developing confidence in skills and team based roles. Peter Lastoskie gave examples of how concepts learned in physics class are easily applied during robot design.

When a parent asked about the time it takes to be on the team, Emily Gitlin described how she has learned to balance being a highly competitive athlete with her commitment to participate in FIRST robotics. She noted that she does this because she enjoys both types of competition. We all had a chance to experience her joy first hand because the parent meeting ended with a video from a head-mounted camera of Emily’s view of a 2017 season winning robotics match.

The evening was concluded by noting that building robots is fun, but building winning robots is even more fun!

—Charles Dershimer, Science Department


Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.