Call it the Rise of the Robots.
Walk into the chemistry lab during any elective period and you’ll find students huddled in groups, jamming to the classics and deeply focused on preparing for a unique and first-ever competition for students at the Upper Campus.
The vibe is cheerful and exciting. But make no mistake, this is serious business.
Since the start of the school year, these students have been preparing to compete in the Greater Los Angeles FIRST Tech Challenge, a high school robotics competition aimed at teaching students the value of hard work, innovation and creativity through the use of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The OVS students, who are divided into two teams, will take part Jan. 18 in the second competition of the year at de Toledo High School in West Hills.
The competitors will again be in for a busy day – in an 11 hour period, they will compete in five matches against dozens of other teams. Students will be required to present their engineer notebooks, and in between matches, they will participate in interviews about their process in creating their robot.
“I think just getting together with the team and building our first, very own robot, and seeing it actually start to work would be the coolest part,” said senior Joe Foulger, one of 15 members of the OVS Robotics Team.
The robotics program at the Upper Campus is spearheaded by math and science teacher Chris Wescott, who provides a kinetic learning experience for these robotics enthusiasts.
This is the Upper Campus’ first attempt at launching both an academic robotics class along with an extracurricular club, and both are part of a larger push to integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) throughout the curriculum on both campuses.
“I think that OVS, by creating STEM programs, is meeting a calling that all education is needing and lacking,” Mr. Wescott said.
STEM Education programs are becoming increasingly popular nationwide as schools move to prepare students for the kinds of STEM-based jobs that will be available in the 21st century. OVS has long focused on kinetic learning, and a STEM focus aligns perfectly with the school’s philosophy.
STEM projects are very also popular with students and are helping recruit prospective students to OVS.
“In the academic realm, there is a tremendous interest in hands-on science approaches now,” said Tracy Wilson, the school’s director of advancement and admissions. “So this is a potential differentiator for OVS in terms of our ability to be on the cutting edge in terms of what we can offer with a STEM-based curriculum that truly begins in kindergarten and extends through the high school grades.”
At the high school, the robotics squad is divided into two teams — Python and Spudnik. Students on each team have built and programmed robots, and those creations will be put through their paces on Saturday as the OVS teams compete in an alliance format against other high school teams.
“Hopefully what we create here at OVS is something I can take pride in,” Mr. Wescott said. “Something I helped start and create and something that students are excited about and can feel challenged by, but at the same time overcome challenges.”