Robotics/Engineering Lab for Middle School: With Your Help (and WEEFC’s)

Galactic Narwhal Chicken Effect team. Photo credit: Cary Gumbert

In case you didn’t know, robotics teams at Weston schools are startlingly good, and I don’t even need to put in the disclaimer “for a school district our size.” Most recently, the WHS Galactic Narwhal Chicken Effect (GNCE) FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams had a superb performance at the first tournament of the season. WHS team 18754 won the overall Inspire Award for the first time in their history and advanced to the MA State Championships on March 4.

While the Owl can go on and on about the teams, the fact is that our current Robotics lab at the Middle School is 25 years old (renovated in 1998, which does not seem like 25 years ago…and yet it is). Does it seem like robotics has maybe changed in the last 25 years? If you answered no, please seek access to real news as soon as possible. While the Robotics lab has been adequate to start the awesomeness our teams and students have today, it is time for an upgrade. A major upgrade.

Middle School Principal John Gibbons and Assistant Principal Phil Oates, in collaboration with a team of faculty and administrators, and parents recently submitted an $80,000 grant proposal for a Middle School Robotics/Engineering Lab, which would enhance teaching and learning in the areas of robotics and engineering at the Middle School and High School for years to come. This grant is currently in the Weston Education Enrichment Fundraising Committee (WEEFC) approval process.

Since 1998, the classroom has been an adequate facility for the teaching of robotics to reasonably sized classes of 18-24 students for grade 7 and 8 robotics. Over the years, the Middle School instructional space has remained the same, however, the robotics program has evolved greatly with newer desktop computers, instructional technologies, 3-D Printers, a Laser Cutter, and upgraded Lego robotics kits.

And yet, as the robotics and engineering field has evolved in other schools on the top edge of the field, the space requirements to meet not only the classroom needs but also the team needs has not. Yet, in spite of this, our robotics teams at both the middle and high school levels (GNCE) have achieved tremendous success through their own initiative, parent support, and passionate drive. To become the next generation of robotics/engineering our Weston students need a state-of-the-art facility, with ongoing support, that can provide opportunities for unlimited success.

Now, in the Owl’s mind, if award-winning and massively awesome Principal Gibbons and Assistant Principal Oates ask for anything, I say just give it to them. Weston, pay attention here. We have the best of the best right there at 456 Wellesley Street. Our middle school has a long-standing tradition of fostering students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields. Can I summarize? The middle school kicks ass. And needs WEEFC’s (umm, your) help to kick it more. Or harder? Not sure there.

Below you will find a description of the proposed Robotics labs with all its math-y, science-y stuff which is an area in which the Owl succeeds in describing only with the help of lifting words off the WEEFC page and pasting them here. Know that there is a major ask here: WEEFC would love to grant this proposal but it has a hefty price tag. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous has offered to match all donations up to $50,000 between now and the end of February. These funds will cover the lab, plus other grants that come up during this school year. 

So please consider a donation today before or after reading about the lab below:

The new Robotics lab will help expand that tradition and provide students with opportunities to explore their interests
in robotics and engineering. The purpose of this project is to design an engineering lab by repurposing and renovating existing space to support the current middle school lego. robotics classes during school and provide dedicated areas to support up to 3 middle school FLL robotics teams of 7-10 students each and up to 4 high school FTC Robotics Teams of 8-12 students each. Teams require physical space and specialized equipment to support their efforts to design, build, program and test their robots. The current facility does not provide this opportunity given current restrictions and limitations to the existing space.

The proposed lab will include the following:
● Robotics equipment: Robotics kits, including those from leading manufacturers such as Lego, GoBilda, RevRobotics, and Sphero, provide students with a wide range of learning experiences.
● Newly Designed Field Spaces: The most critical building requirement is to provide enough space for full-sized regulation competition fields that are set up at the start of each season and are left configured and ready for practice for the entire school year or competition season. The new lab will have 2 permanent fields for robotics classes, FLL and FTC teams.
● Secure storage for tools, parts and robots: The recommended metal tool cabinets have heavy-duty ball-bearing drawers designed for workshops and will be placed under a 16-foot butcher block workbench behind the FTC field. This
will provide a dedicated FTC workspace for construction and lockable storage for tools and the team’s inventory of FTC parts that is cost-effective and more robust than purchasing custom wood cabinets.
● ShotBot Desktop CNC Machine: Most competitive FTC teams custom design and precision cut 18” long aluminum sheets (the maximum size allowed for an FTC robot) into precise shapes that they assemble into the robot chassis and other components. With multiple teams constantly iterating and updating their design during the year, it will be more cost-effective and much faster long-term to make parts on a desktop CNC machine.
● 3-D Printers: The lab will have 12 3-D printers funded from a previous WEEFC grant
● MarkForged Printer: The combination of a fast CNC machine to quickly and inexpensively cut large sheets of aluminum and the MarkForged Onyx printer for printing very strong small 3D parts that can’t be made from aluminum sheets will provide the most design flexibility for teams and teach them how to use multiple modern manufacturing techniques to optimize their designs.
● Computers and software: 12 MacBook Air Laptop computers, dedicated for grade 7 and 8 robotics classes that will be used for programming. Workstations and Storage: Husky workbench stations, 16 foot butcher block workbench, cabinets and wire cage storage closets; dry erase boards for the perimeter walls.
● Inventory of Parts: Successful teams have an inventory of motors, belts, servos, gears and other parts to quickly prototype and test multiple concepts. The more they are able to iterate and test a design quickly, the more the students learn and the more competitive and robust the robot becomes.

Robotics/Engineering Lab (REL) Use:
1) All Middle School Robotics Courses: The new REL would provide all grade 7 and 8 students with a state of the art facility to explore, create and design robots and engineering projects through the grade 7 and 8 Robotics curriculum.
The future Program of Studies will consider the start of robotics in grade 6, expanding the robotics/engineering curriculum for all grades.
2) Before, After School, Weekend Clubs and Summer Camps: The Middle School FLL teams and the High School FTC Teams will access the new facility before and after school, and on weekends. The new lab would also become the
site for summer robotics camps sponsored by our WHS Robotics Team Leaders to provide experiences for our younger students.
3) Expanded Student Access during the school day: The lab would be made available to students for daily uses during study halls for project completion, exploration, and collaboration, supervised by middle school faculty.


Again, please support the proposed Robotics lab, your Weston public school students and WEEFC by donating here.


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