Gilbert High hosts first-ever robotics tournament
There was a time when robots seemed like a thing of the future, but these days robots play an integral part in our everyday lives, whether we know it or not. Robots are found in homes, toys and appliances. They are also used in all kinds of industries, from food to medicine to space exploration.
For some of our Gilbert High School students, they are getting a chance to explore and work with robots in and out of the classroom. Joe Bisaccia teaches AP Computer Science as well as Honors Robotics at Gilbert High. This year, he started a Robotics Club for students to get together, have fun and explore.
“This is actually the first year that we’ve had a robotics program, and so we started it from the ground up,” he said.
Prior to working with Gilbert Public Schools, Bisaccia taught robotics at the middle school level for five years in another district. During his first year of teaching, he inherited a robotics class, which helped develop his own interest in bots.
“I taught myself how to code. It seemed like a really cool thing that students needed to learn about. Six years later, here I am,” Bisaccia said.
There are about 15 students who regularly attend club meetings. About eight of those students decided to compete this year. Robotics competition season typically begins in October and runs through February. Students split into teams of three or four for tournaments.
“Once all of the teams are registered, the computer auto generates all of the matches,” Bisaccia said, “A couple of times, our teams at GHS were matched up as an alliance and other times they were competing against each other or they were competing against other schools. It’s totally random and really cool.”
Gilbert High hosted a tournament in early February, welcoming robotics teams from other high schools, including Desert Ridge High and Highland High. Students competed for a chance to qualify for the state championships. Matches last only two minutes, and students spend the first 15 seconds doing computer programming for their robots. During the remaining time, the robot is directed by a remote control and tasked with completing a challenge.
“I’m very, very happy to see it work and do what I want it to do, but I’m also very interested in seeing how it does in a competition. When I’m in a competition and I see it do badly, but we win once, then that makes me very happy,” said Dakota Cook, a sophomore at Gilbert High.
Cook became interested in robotics after developing a passion for computers and virtual reality (VR). He loved that Gilbert High offered him an opportunity to explore electives focused on programming, hardware and software. Cook is not the only one. Jackson Kutella, a freshman, is also fascinated by computers and robots.
“Way before Robotics, I picked computers. I’m much more into the coding side, but I don’t deny the hardware that goes into this stuff. I do love the hardware as well, because the hardware of a computer is really cool and super fragile, but within that fragility lies complexity,” Kutella said.
As for sophomore Otoño Garcia, he came into the Robotics Club with eight years of computer programming experience. When he enrolled at Gilbert High, he began taking classes focused on computer hardware with the goal of learning skills that would help him pursue a career in engineering.
“I heard that there was going to be a Robotics Club, so by [joining], I would have like the trinity of engineering - computer programming, hardware and software,” Garcia said.
By participating in the Robotics Club, students are gaining technical skills as well as soft skills like effective communication, team work, leadership, adaptability, motivation and time management. All skills that are considered transferable no matter what industry they choose to pursue in the future. As technology changes, these students will have the tools to keep up with the needs of the workforce.
“Some of these kids come in with such a high level of knowledge of coding and stuff. It can even surpass what I know. It keeps me on my toes,” Bisaccia said.