On D113 robotics team, ‘everyone will turn pro’
Quiton Rivera of Chicago operates a mobile robot built by members of a Distrcit 113 robotics team at Northbrook Court this month. The team's outreach efforts received an award at the state championship Dec. 8. | Kevin Tanaka~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:19PM
Teacher Jonathan Weiland brings the same fervor to his team’s robotics competitions that coaches, baseball Dads and hockey Moms bring to their kids’ sports.
“What robotics does is match the excitement of a sports model with an intellectual endeavor,” said Weiland, a biology teacher at Highland Park High School who has watched the team compete in world championships three out of four years.
“I can guarantee you that everyone on my robotics team is going to ‘turn pro’,” said Weiland, noting that it’s not very likely that anyone on a tennis, baseball or football team at Highland Park High School will be playing sports professionally later in life.
On Dec. 8, District 113’s Beastie Bots robot team won the Illinois State Championship in the FIRST Tech Challenge, an intermediate robotics competition designed for 14- to 18-year-old high school students. The competition was held at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and earned the school its third invitation to the world championships in St. Louis.
This year’s challenge has been to create a robot that plays a simple form of Tic Tac Toe. In prior years, robots have been programmed to climb over an obstacle and move as if bowling. Students learn of the challenge in early September and have only 10 weeks to come up with a solution before the first tournament in November.
“Robotics is a fantastic opportunity for high school students to be able to use their engineering skills and apply them to making robots,” said Johnny Cohen, a senior at Highland Park High School who has been on the team since sophomore year. “It is really engaging and fun to watch, as well as fun for the participants.”
Weiland doesn’t denigrate high school athletics and the valuable lessons students learn, like the importance of persistence and practice. “We take the best part of sports,” said Weiland. “You build, you learn, you renew your skills and you go on and keeping trying.”
In fact, the organized robotics competitions can be just as loud and boisterous as a basketball game in overtime. “We have big events in stadiums with screaming fans, music and loud noise. It is very exciting.”
Weiland notes that robotics simulates real work experience in that there is no one solution to any problem.
At the state competition, District 113’s Da Big Meks team won the Motivate Award for spirit and enthusiasm and the Girls Gone Wired team won the judges award for outreach efforts. As part of the team’s outreach efforts, students demonstrated their robots’ capabilities outside Macy’s in Northbrook Court on Dec. 1.