Building Community by Building Robots

Nov. 20, 2018

​How do you get students excited in STEM? Build robots.
How do you get students excited about being a part of their community? Compete with robots!

This is the mantra of the Nelson Mandela High School Robotics team’s “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” (FIRST)Technology Challenge (FTC) initiative. The predominantly Grade 11 and 12 senior team from the school, labelled team 7277 the Nelson Mandela United Squadron in FIRST robotics terms, decided that the best way to involve as many students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects as possible was to start new robotics teams at the junior highs and middle schools nearby. With that in mind, and some funding graciously provided by the Alberta Ministry of Community and Social Services to support this extracurricular endeavor, the team’s Grade 12 core group set out to start six new FTC teams and mentor them through starting up a great challenge. Once a week, the Mandela seniors trek off to help their mentees design, build, wire, and program competition robots. The participants come from Crossing Park, Ted Harrison, Peter Lougheed, and Terry Fox schools, as well as two teams made up entirely of Grade 10 students from Nelson Mandela.

FIRST Robotics is a series of competitions that are meant to test students’ abilities in STEM areas such as CAD design, mechanics, electrical systems, and robot code, as well as basic competencies such as the running of a team, which includes skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, and building a spirit of Gracious Professionalism.

Gracious Professionalism is a key mantra of FIRST robotics. That mantra says that all students are to act supportively and kindly to each other because, unlike an athletic competition where only the best of the best go on to professionalism, at the end of the day there is a job in a STEM field waiting for all of these students if they choose to take it.

“I'm thrilled beyond belief at how incredibly bright and enthusiastic the team members are.” Pam Frey from the Ministry of Community and Social Services noted while witnessing the first meeting of the teams at Nelson Mandela in November. “These will be our leaders of tomorrow.

“The teams are inventive, energetic, keen and intelligent. They are advanced thinkers and are providing social return into the community they live in.”

The teams are preparing their robots for the Calgary FTC competition, which will be held at Nelson Mandela High School on Feb. 9. That competition will host teams from across Alberta and B.C.

Following that, team 7277 the Nelson Mandela United Squadron senior team, will be competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition, one tournament at the highest level of high school robotics competition in North America. That competition will be co-hosted by Nelson Mandela High School and the Genesis Centre on April 5 and 6 and will feature teams from across western Canada, as well as entrants from the United States, Mexico, Brazil, China, and Turkey.