#Stemiscool seemed to be the mantra of the day as the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education held its first robotics tournaments for middle and high school students on December 13. Twenty-six schools came together to participate in a fun-filled arena at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, where innovation and ingenuity were on full display as students tinkered, modified and tested their carefully constructed robots.
Orly Nadler, director of innovation at Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education and a Yeshivat Noam parent said: “At CIJE we are constantly trying to find ways to network schools and create more meaningful gatherings where students can see other students who are excited about electronics, robotics, technology and STEM in general. As a mother, I got to see the excitement when both my middle school son and my high school son came home sharing their progress on their robot and how they strategized their builds for the competition. And now, seeing dozens of Jewish day school students come with their robots intact and ready to show off their ingenuity is extremely exciting for me.”
The Frisch School’s Travis Merritt, who oversees the Robotics Club and also teaches engineering and physics, was thrilled for all his students there. “We have four robots competing today; we also have several kids helping CIJE do field resets and scorekeeping.
“The thing I’m impressed most by is all the robots are actually driving. They are on the field, so [the students] are at least able to make some modifications to strategy and still win games. They made some mechanical modifications. One team in particular I’m really proud of because they were way oversized and they thought they were going to be disqualified all day. They made a modification. Got it down to size. They’re competing. Winning. And they’re feeling good, so I’m proud and our kids are persevering.”
With hundreds of students constantly shuttling back and forth between the staging areas and matches, the school was buzzing with STEM activity as kids were constantly engaged in last-minute tweaks to maximize their robots’ potential.
Andrew Mittleman, middle school robotics adviser from Golda Ochs explained: “We’re focusing on spinning the purple dispensers. The kids have been working hard. We’re really excited to test it out, see how it goes and make improvements for the spring.”
Musya Polterak, a Frisch sophomore and one of the captains of the Sophomore Robotics team shared her team’s strategy. “We built two mechanisms because we weren’t sure which one would work better…. We built a triangle robot because it looks nicer and cooler and it worked out in terms of syncing the wheels … it has more mobility and worked better with the measurements.”
Nathan Heurich, faculty member in the JEC STEM Department, showed off the two robots his students were using in the competition. “The first robot was being built since day one of the semester. Kids are in there almost every single day working. Over the last two weeks we’ve been able to build a smaller secondary robot to compete in parallel.”
“Our robot picks up and shoots the discs through our spindles and launches them between 6 and 9 feet across the arena, and it can roll the rollers on the side,” explained David Waltuch, a senior at TABC and captain of the Robotics Team.
Ayelet Siegel, Ruthie Segal and Tahlia Avery of RPRY proudly explained how their robot gathers up the pucks. It was their first time at the competition and their excitement was palpable. “It’s really cool. Everyone should try it…. You don’t need to know so much about robots because you learn easily and it’s really fun.”
TABC STEM Coordinator Aryeh Tiefenbrunn commented: “In general, highlighting the creativity of [the tournament] and the competitive aspect and how much it allows students to kind of express themselves, working with their brains and their hands in equal measure—kids realize that and it has a really cool approach to it.”
He had some sage advice for kids who might be intimidated about not being “tech savvy” enough to join a robotics club. “No one really is when they first start out. Just show up, learn from the older students who are there with you, and learn from your coach. You will pick up a lot and learn by doing—and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way.”
Avigayil Ehrlichman, a Frisch senior and design director for the Frisch Robotics Club/Team talked about her role. “I work on helping the teams design their robots and transferring over their design ideas to the coding director so they can code their whole robot… I’m actually in the entrepreneurship track but I’ve been involved in robotics for all four years of high school, and I love it… I like designing robots and helping with code.” Encouraging younger kids to get involved, she said, “Do it! It’s the best time. You make such good friends and you learn so much.”
At the end of the middle school tournament, one of RPRY’s teams tied for first with Solomon Schechter of Queens. Chana Luchins, principal of general studies at RPRY, said that part of the reason for her students’ success was because of the school’s “targeted choice to invest in new robots and a sufficient number of robots for each pair of students to have the deep experience and practice with a robot. RPRY fielded amongst the higher number of student-to-robot ratios and entered nine teams. Although only our eighth graders traveled to the tournament, every seventh and eighth grader, girls and boys, had the opportunity to code and manipulate robots.”
Over at the high school tournament, Ramaz and Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy tied for first, while TABC and Bais Yaakov of Baltimore tied for third. TABC’s Tiefenbrunn, a five-year veteran of the competition, spoke about the tremendous drive of his students. “They come up with their own ideas and they get into them. … They are proud of their designs, and if it works well that makes them prouder; if it doesn’t work well, they don’t want to give up. They want to modify it and get it working better between matches and that leads to a lot of creativity, a lot of teamwork and this year the vibe has just been really incredible.”
By Jewish Link Staff