Robotics: A Class To Remember

 

Blair’s competition number displayed on a laser-cut vinyl plaque.

When I started my  sophomore year, I made the choice not to take Chemistry, like most of my classmates, but to try Robotics instead. I knew it would either be a lot of fun, or I’d hate my C block for an entire year. In retrospect, the past seven months in Mr. Garrant’s class have inspired a passion for robotics that I didn’t know was there.

Before this year, I always respected my peers who could write lines of code and read them like a book. To me, writing a program and turning it into a remote-control machine was a superpower that only certain people had a gift for. I had no idea I would be doing just that. I discovered that making the code come to life was really amazing.

An example of a robot built in class.

Robotics sounded like a step-by-step guide on how to build and control some random metal object. It was very vague. On the first day of class, though, Mr. Garrant gave us a goal: meet the criteria for Relic Recovery, the competition that the Robotics Team announces at School Meeting that it competes in. Basically, we had to build a fast, efficient robot with motors for wheels, and a grabbing mechanism to pick up foam cubes. Not only did we have to physically build the robot, but we also had to program it to do what we wanted it to. It might not sound like fun, but it’s extremely gratifying to get your robot fully operational.

Now that we’ve built and programmed our robots, the rest of the year is split up into two projects, with two separate teams of four competing against the other. The first project is to get your robot to follow a pathway using a directional sensor called a gyroscope, which isn’t hard once you’ve had a half a year of experience. The second one is a long awaited clash between two robots that continues until one destroys the other beyond recognition. Just kidding. It’s more like sumo wrestling inside of a circle a couple feet wide. What will make this challenge so captivating is that we can’t use any controls: we will have to teach our robots to find the other one on its own and push it out of the circle.

Mr. Garrant’s Robotics class is unique among the others at Blair. The entire class is based on effort. No tests, no quizzes, and rarely any homework. It’s the only science class I’ve ever heard of where the grades we receive are based solely on enthusiasm, teamwork, and the general drive to succeed rather than collection of knowledge. Without the stress of studying and homework, my peers and I can just focus on learning, which really makes the class great. It seems I have found a true gem among the classes at Blair: the perfect combination of science, art, and a good time.

 

(Copyright 2018 Ned Mattison)

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