Robotics at Yosemite High School

The scene: “A foreign power has kidnapped some of our agents and is holding them hostage at multiple, identical embassies in their country ... your mission is to program your robot to gain entrance to the facility ... free the hostage, and escape the embassy without being detected,” Yosemite High School (YHS) students taking the new Integrating Robotics in Physical Science class were instructed.

Before teams of students were allowed to construct robots to complete the task, they had to pass a competency test created by their teacher, Ryan Collings. They had to show their knowledge of the various sensors and programing needed to be a “Certified Robot Programmer.”

The list of pre-tasks included: “Program your robot to turn while one wheel stays in place, program your robot to turn 90 degrees to the left using the gyro sensor and program your robot to run away from darkness.”

The robots have to “go through the embassy and grab a marble (the hostage) from this cage thing and avoid being sensored by cameras,” ninth grader Celeste Otero explained. She points to color, touch, gyro, and ultrasonic sensors in her group’s robotics kit which was developed at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotic Institute.

Ninth grader Joe Wallo discovered his group had put the gyro sensor on upside down so that when they programmed the robot to go left, it went right and vice versa. Alyssa Allison, 9th grade, and Jared Shipp, 10th grade, made up the rest of his team. They worked on programming their robot to turn at various angles, travel at a specific speed and to use a lever to extract the “hostage” marble.

For some of the students, programming is not new.

“I have created my own video games,” said junior Harley Merritt who is taking the class as an elective. “I am hoping to go into computer game graphics,” he said.

The robotics class replaced the earth science class in the science curriculum. It gives students an “opportunity to build simple robots integrating math, science, technology and communication standards,” Collings explained. “It’s an inquiry based approach that fulfills the (students’) physical science requirement for graduation.”

Students are problem solving and using design strategies to accomplish a given task.

“Placing earth and physical science in conjunction with robotics is looking forward to the next generation science standards, especially engineering. (Students) can have robots do things to discover physical science concepts,” he said.

Collings likens building the robots to a new version of Legos where probes, sensors and motors are added components used to get robots to do what you want them to do.

Collings, a 2001 YHS graduate, sees the robotics class as a chance to integrate science with both language arts and mathematics. Students are expected to write and do reports in the class using proper English and general writing conventions and they also must complete some research.

As students talk about gear ratios and speed functions, they are definitely using math skills. Students are using computer skills to program their robots to complete the specific tasks required for the “mission.”

Celeste Otero, Emily Vanbalinghem, and Cannon Eames were in the group that first completed the task successfully and a video of that “mission” can be found at:

In the future, Collings would like to integrate an underwater robotics component into the class as students build their technology, design and problem solving skills.