High school isn’t just for kids these days.
In attendance at the most recent Three Village school board meeting was a student-built robot and some of the Ward Melville High School students who built it.
What began as an extracurricular offering in 2005, has evolved into a yearlong, honors robotics course at the high school. The Ward Melville Iron Patriots — robotics students and teachers Steve Rogers, John Williams and Mark Suesser — presented their work to the school board after the course’s inaugural year.
Rogers said students in the robotics class built two robots. The first is a generic one built from a kit and programmed to complete various tasks. The second robot is one that students design and build from scratch to solve a specific problem.
Last spring the Iron Patriots took part in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University, where they competed against 55 other teams from Long Island and around the world. With a 13th place overall finish, the Ward Melville team brought home the highest rookie seed award for having the highest ranking of a first-year team. The district’s young engineers are no strangers to competition; the club team won the regional Botball championships in 2014 and 2015.
The Botball robot competition requires that the robots pick up ping pong balls, transport them and then hit a target. For the FIRST Robotics Competition, which Rogers calls “a football game on steroids,” larger robots have to complete even more specialized tasks. Designed and built from scratch in six weeks, these 150-pound robot contestants must pick up gears and place them on propellers, among other challenges.
In addition to the work of building and programming the robots, members of the team also work on fundraising and build websites to get the word out about their project. They also take part in community outreach visits to elementary schools to introduce students to robotics and to local organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans.
Students who attended the meeting spoke of their interests and how the class offered the opportunity to apply certain scientific principles, develop problem-solving skills and explore interests in aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Noor Kamal, a student with an interest in math and computer science, said she went into the class not having much building experience.
“Those six weeks every single day after school designing the robot from scratch and building it exposed me to all these different things I want to do in the future,” she said.
Rogers said with the expanded role that robots will have in the future, “Our work force now has to retool to train to be able to run the robots and program the robots.”