The students at Village Glen School are extraordinary in a number of ways – and their Knightrise robotics team is no exception.
Village Glen, part of The Help Group, is made up of students who have special needs and challenges in socialization, communication and peer relations, but also natural ability in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. The school’s STEM initiative includes classes in computer programming, digital arts, 3D printing, AP Environmental Science, entrepreneurship and robotics.
And at the FIRST Robotics Competition regionals in Ventura in late March, the Knightrise team won the Rookie All-Star Award and earned an invitation to the upcoming national competition. The Knightrise team, made up entirely of students on the autism spectrum, built a robot designed to win a game called “Recycle Rush” – building stacks of totes in different areas of a scoring field, then putting a garbage can on top of the stack.
It sounds simple enough, but each team has only a few minutes to build its stack, making engineering and ability to brainstorm vitally important. And Knightrise had never been in a competitive robot building challenge. “We knew that FIRST Robotics Competition was the national robotics competition, but worried that we weren’t ready for it yet,” says Dr. Ellis Crasnow, director of STEM Education at Village Glen.
The experience and the chance to learn from more seasoned robotics teams was too good to pass up, so the Knightrise students put their heads together and went to work. “We tried to build the best bot we could that could score the most points,” says Crasnow. “The robot we built had an ‘elevator’ and a claw mounted on a chassis. The claw gripped the totes and cans, and lifted and lowered them while the motorized chassis maneuvered the bot where we wanted it to be.”
Next up for the Knightrise students and their robot is the FIRST Robotics Competition championship in St. Louis, April 22 to 25.
No matter how they do at the nationals, it’s clear that the robotics program is already creating winners. “I’m learning to be confident about contributing my ideas, but also trying out other people’s ideas and making concessions,” says team member Chris of his experience. “It’s teaching me how to manage a timeline and my schedule, and its real-world application is preparing me for my future.”