As computer science and engineering continue to become more important in our society, interest in these fields has grown in schools across the country, including the Snoqualmie Valley. That growth can be seen in this year’s Mount Si High School robotics team, which was a single group of 15 students in the last school year and has grown to encompass more than 30 students on three teams.
The Mount Si teams hosted the second of three district tournaments on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Mount Si High School Freshman Campus, where they took second, fourth and fifth places out of 14 total teams at the event. The Mount Si teams are now ranked at second, third and fifth in the league.
Mount Si Robotics, led by Kyle Warren, head coach and computer science and robotics instructor, builds robots designed to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge tournament series, a nationwide robotics engineering and design competition.
Last year, the Mount Si team qualified for state competition. With that success, as well as a growing interest in students coming up from the middle school level, registrations for the team jumped. Warren and the other advisors decided to break the teams up and assign roles for each of the teams to most efficiently develop and construct a robot for a tournament.
“We asked students who was interested in being a leader. We had them fill out applications, we reviewed them as the entire mentor group, and we picked three,” Warren said. “Then we let everybody decide what role on the teams they decided to be and to make an even distribution. People who were interested in software, we tried to fulfill that, people interested in design, mechanical construction, making sure everything was covered with a full breadth of responsibilities. That worked out, we have a really even mix of what students can do.”
The design of the robot is a chance for students to work together to solve a problem. In this case, that problem is the tournament itself. FIRST Tech develops variations on the challenges the robots must complete each year. The challenges have included lining up matching lights, pushing buttons, climbing ladders, and visual pattern recognition.
“Every year there is a brand new contest, but some of the elements from previous years come back around,” Warren said. For example he said this year’s returning element, beacon devices with buttons the robot must push, are more emphasized in the competition.
“There is also an element of image recognition with the phones that are part of the control system for the robots. That is a brand new element this year,” he said. “It’s a higher degree of difficulty, testing some of the tech on the robots. It hasn’t been used before. It’s really trying to push the students’ capabilities, but also teach real world applications and vision recognition.”
In addition to the growth in overall numbers to the program, Mount Si has seen a growth in the gender diversity of students joining. Warren said that he wants to see this trend continue by sparking interest in STEM activities across all genders in early education.
“It’s definitely a trend I want. It’s a constant question I am asking myself and the students,” he said. “Last year we had the pleasure of going to every single science fair at all of the elementary schools within the district, I am hoping I can get some of the girls this year to go and just build that interest in a younger age. Getting that attention captured, getting them into it and at least trying it out at a younger point in their lives, will help their involvement when they get here in high school.”
Kaley Hedrick, a freshman, said she joined because her brother was already on the team and inspired her to get into it.
“Girls haven’t always been into engineering, but as time progresses, more and more are getting interested, it’s great. It’s a great field to go into.” Hedrick said. “In this club, you are doing many things you didn’t think you could do before… meeting new friends, creating things, and thinking of things in new ways.”
The teams are now preparing for their third competition of the year on Jan. 14 in Everett, their last chance to qualify for state.
For more information on the FIRST Tech Challenge visit www.firstinspires.org.