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Santa Monica-Malibu Students Form District’s First Robotics Team

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By Lookout Staff

October 14, 2015 -- For the first time, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has formed a special robotics team of students who will go robot-to-robot against other teams in an international competition designed to broaden science, math and other skills.

The “RoboVikings,” who began meeting weekly this fall at John Adams Middle School (JAMS), will be the district’s first group to enter the FIRST® Tech Challenge championships, said Gail Pinsker, a spokeswoman for the school district.

The competition, which is one of the fastest-growing contests of its kind, is expected to draw about 51,500 entrants on 5,150 teams of students in grades seven through 12 from countries around the world, Pinsker said.

Included in the competition are nearly 500 meets, league championships, qualifying tournaments, championship tournaments and “super-regional” championship tournaments. The competition culminates in the FIRST Tech Challenger World Championship in St. Louis April 27 through April 30 of next year.

Meanwhile, Santa Monica’s rookie team is bracing for the competition, which initially involves going up against well-established middle school and high school teams around the region.

“This is big step for our school,” said JAMS Principal Steven Richardson.

The competition will help students hone a variety of skills involving life in the 21st Century and just life in general, he said.

The pilot project “will expose our students to the iterative engineering design cycle,” Richardson said. “Inherent in this process is the notion of learning from failure. This is an invaluable lesson to learn at this age and can be applied to all parts of our lives.”

The idea behind the competition is to help students learn real-world math and science concepts, District officials said.

“Win or lose, this is going to be a great experience for all involved,” said Mohamed Abid, the new team’s coach, whose long career includes leading engineering projects at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by NASA.

Abid served as mission chief engineer on JPL’s 2015 launch of the orbiting SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) Observatory, which measures the amount of water in the top 5 centimeters of soil on the Earth’s surface, Pinsker said.

Abid also received the NASA Honor Exceptional Achievement Medal for his work on the Ocean Surface Topography Mission successfully launched in June 2008, she added.

Abid was excited about the project.

“I am grateful to have the chance to teach, mentor and learn from these students while having

fun at the same time,” he said. “These kids get to work together as a team, and get to design and execute solutions to complicated problems.

 “I believe the most rewarding toy is the one that you built yourself,” he said.

Team members of the Robo Vikings will design, build and program their own remote-controlled robot using a reusable, modular robotics platform.

Along the way, they will learn about mechanical and electrical design, gain experience in computer coding, 3-D design, business plan development and team-building, Pinsker said.

The JAMS Science Magnet Board is funding the launch of the RoboVikings team, paying for initial registration fees, building equipment and tools.

Students also receive mentoring support from JAMS science faculty as well as parent volunteers with experience in design, engineering, programming and robotics, Pinsker said.

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