Toaster-sized robots, team-building, problem-solving in Brooklyn Heights

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P.S. 8 robotics team members at the Brooklyn tournament, held at NYU-Poly. Photo courtesy of Cristina Soto

“It was a good day” at the recent FIRST Robotics Regional Competition, said P.S. 8 robotics coach Brandie Hayes.

The Brooklyn Heights elementary school fields two robotics teams made up of third- to fifth-graders — the Robot Rockers and the Mission Masters. Both competed at the Brooklyn level competition at NYU-Poly, and the Mission Masters moved forward to the regionals, held at the Javits Center in Manhattan on March 15 and 16.

While wildly-enthusiastic supporters chanted and waved posters, team members put their toaster-size LEGO robots to the test on a table-top course. While they didn’t move on, that’s not the point, Hayes told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“There are lots of benefits that don’t show up on tests. Members learn social skills like team-building and negotiating strategy with their partners. There’s lots of trial and error, revising plans, problem solving and strategizing – it’s all part of the process,” she said.

“The students experience learning STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and just enjoy the fact that the club is not a structured class,” Hayes said. Team members research the competition’s theme, devise a plan of action, and then build and program a robot able to complete missions.

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“Really, they run the show when we’re making decisions about the team,” she added. “Kids do all the work. The parents get so nervous when they see them in the pit, making decisions. That’s what I love about robotics.”

By offering these programs to students, they get the opportunity to get their hands on ways to apply their technology and science skills, solve problems and have fun,” Pat Daly, NYC FIRST Regional Director, told the Eagle during the regionals.

“It makes them want to learn more — to learn how to make the robots do things they didn’t do last time. They also learn teamwork and how to work together. Programs like ours excite kids,” she said. “A lot of them go on to careers in technology.

Even if kids don’t make a career out of technology, she said, “They still learn entrepreneurship and other life skills that are going to improve them no matter what.”

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