Technology for Learners
Robotics Programs at Cotati-Rohnert Park’s Technology High School
Author: Rick Phelan
Which Sonoma County high school has had the longest running program focused on technology and robotics? If you answered Cotati Rohnert Park’s Technology High School, you’d be correct. Tech High has been involved with robotics for over 13 years—and teacher Greg Weaver has been the robotics advisor from the beginning. Greg has sought to involve students with robotics to help spur thinking in areas that are now articulated in the Next Generation Science practices for science and engineering:
- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
FIRST Robotics Competition
From 2001 to 2013, Tech High’s efforts with robotics focused primarily on the First Robotics Competition. Described as “a varsity sport for the mind,” FIRST joins the excitement of sport competitions with the demands of science and technology. With specific guidelines, limited resources, and time limits, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.
Tech High’s activities with FIRST climaxed in 2007 when they won the Engineering Inspiration Award at the regional competition. This qualified the team to advance with their robot to the national competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
MATE Underwater ROV Competition
Last year, Tech High sought new ways to involve students with robotics. Greg Weaver and the students decided to switch from FIRST to the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Competition. MATE competitions use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) as a platform to promote understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math. Activities are designed to demonstrate real-world applications of robots working in underwater environments.
Past challenges have included development of ROVs to cap oil wells and survey WWII shipwrecks for environmental hazards. Middle school, high school, and college teams are challenged to solve problems in innovative ways, work in teams, and develop an understanding of the breadth of business operations. MATE offers different challenge levels (beginner, beginner-intermediate, intermediate, and advanced) that provide students with varied entry points into the competition.
Greg has found that with MATE’s different competition levels, he can increase student involvement and have students build more robots. This year, Tech High will be fielding four MATE teams for a challenge that simulates a rescue operation in harsh Arctic Ocean conditions. Two teams are at the beginner-intermediate level and two teams are at the intermediate level. Along with ROV construction, each team is also asked to submit technical documentation and deliver engineering presentations to industry professionals who serve as judges. Students are also required to create a poster display that communicates information about their vehicle design, their team, the problems they were tasked to solve, and how these problems relate to real-world events for understanding by more general audiences.
Comparing Costs & Needs
Robotics programs require ongoing funding. Greg calculates that the school’s FIRST involvement cost Tech High approximately $8,000 per year, while MATE totals about $1,000 per year. He has a group of motivated parents who have worked to form a 501(c)3 boosters group to support fundraising efforts.
Along with funding, community volunteers and industry mentors are beneficial to help guide project work. Greg has had industry mentors working with him from the beginning. Since Tech High has a greater number of teams working on robots through MATE, there are more construction and programming questions and support needed for critiquing plans.