PROPOSAL FOR A HIGH SCHOOL ROBOTICS LEAGUE
By Mike McIntyre

 

RATIONALE:  Society gets what it celebrates.  In America today, we hold up music/movie stars and professional athletes for mass recognition and financial reward.  Consequently, there is no shortage of actors, recording artists, or NBA players.  Many youth are willing to work long hours toward their dream of being the next Harrison Ford, Brittany Spears, or Michael Jordan.  How many of our youth are striving to be the next Shockley, Bardeen, or Kamen?  How many even know what these folks have done?  Hundreds of people in scientific and technical areas have made major contributions to society, contributions that have profoundly affected the quality of our lives, yet we as a society barely recognize or celebrate their accomplishments.  Dr. Woodie Flowers, an engineering professor at MIT, has pointed out a prime example of this:  In the city of Boston an underwater tunnel, one of the engineering marvels of the century, was completed and needed to be named.  Who did they choose to honor: A scientist who gave us the theoretical framework for such a creation?  One of the architects who created the design? One of the engineers who finally made the plans into a reality?    No, they choose a professional sports figure: somebody who could hit a ball with a stick!

            Financially, society rewards the engineers, inventors, and designers who create things of value, but we don’t celebrate them.  They are not accessible to the majority of our young people.  We do not praise their accomplishments.  This omission begins in schools where pep assemblies honor the athletes and the athletes compete before adoring throngs with cheerleaders and pep bands.  Academic teams get either a back seat or no seat at all.  Thousands of dollars are spent on coaches, equipment, team uniforms ...etc..  Unless we do something to change the very fabric of our society, America will continue to see increasing shortages of engineers, scientists and technicians.  Other countries that do celebrate what is important will overtake our world leadership in science and technology.

            There is an organization in this country that has already begun to address this issue.  FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was started by a New Hampshire inventor and businessman named Dean Kamen.  He formed an organization, modeled after the graduate projects of Flowers, where high school students team up with corporate sponsors to build a robot and compete head-to-head in an exciting sports-like format.  Approximately 15 FIRST teams already exist in Oakland County.  At present, however, there are no local FIRST tournaments, most schools do not have teams, and only a small percentage of the secondary school population is being reached.

 

PROPOSAL:  A robotics league shall be formed that includes each high school in Oakland County.  This league shall be referred to in this proposal as the “Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association” or (OCCRA).  Participating teams are to be formed within each school along the lines of sports teams.  In early September, each team will receive the same kit of parts, game rules and timeline for building a remote-controlled robot.  The games will be played in a standard school gym with minimal set-up.  A series of tournaments, either regionally through the Technical Centers or countywide, will be held on Saturdays from late September through mid-October.  The rules of the competition will allow for, and encourage, corporate partnerships but will not allow precise machining or processes not able to be carried out in the schools. The complexity of the game will increase in set stages at each tournament with sufficient time between each tournament to allow teams to adjust their designs.  A county championship tournament will be held in late October or early November.  Pontiac Central High School, in partnership with Delphi Interior Systems, should be the site for the first OCCRA championship since they are already annually hosting their own robotics tournament in November and have shown that they can put on a spectacular, well-run event.  (Some of the Central/Delphi coaches have indicated that they would probably be willing to support this league and host the championships in place of their traditional tournament.)

            Oakland Schools shall oversee OCCRA in the pilot year and serve as fiduciary agent. Oakland Schools shall help set up the accounts, financial processes, and tax exemptions necessary for the running of the OCCRA.  The Intermediate School District will also organize the writing and distribution of curriculum to help the schools that are new to competitive robotics.  During the first year of competition, Oakland Schools shall organize an association of participating schools to advise the County on relevant details and to help solicit material donations and funding. High school sports teams do not need to solicit funds from corporate sponsors, nor should the teams involved in the OCCRA.  The main reason to enlist corporate involvement is to give students greater accessibility to engineers and technicians.  (Mentoring and the wealth of shared knowledge and experiences are more important for the success of this league than funds, although some funding will need to be secured as “seed money” and teams that choose to form FIRST teams will certainly need funding for that enterprise.)  Corporate representatives would serve on this same committee to share their expertise and help schools develop corporate partnerships that can lead to enriching opportunities as seen in the FIRST Program. Three to four thousand dollars will be needed per team for material costs initially.

            Each team in the county should be asked to send a school administrator and a robotics coach to the initial OCCRA Conference before the end of June 2000.  At the Conference, an Executive Committee needs to be selected from this group to oversee the start of the league. The Advisory Committee needs to be selected at this time and the following subcommittees assigned:  the Game-Maker group needs to devise a game for the Fall season, including what the game rules will be and what is to be included in the kit of parts; a Corporate Support & Funding subcommittee will have the mission of enlisting corporate support and developing partnerships between schools and businesses; a Public Relations subcommittee needs to generate publicity; also, a Scheduling subcommittee needs to lay out the calendar for the season.   Over the summer, these committees shall meet and develop recommendations to bring back to the OCCRA Executive Committee by the middle of August 2000.   The plans that the Executive Committee accept will be put into play immediately for the competitive season time lined earlier.

            Toward the end of the first year, Oakland Schools shall begin to take the necessary steps to make the league self-sustaining.  The possible development of a semi-autonomous agency to administer the league will need to be explored. Within the world of Michigan secondary athletics, coaches and athletic directors meet annually to review practices, set rules, make schedules...etc..  Oakland Schools should facilitate the development of such an organization in the initial year for the robotics league. This may be by evolution of the existing Executive Committee or an entirely new organization.  Oakland Schools should also coordinate the assessment and future growth of the league. Long-term success needs to be measured by the impact that the OCCRA experience has on the lives of Oakland County students.  If successful, plans for statewide implementation would be initiated by the county through the State Department of Education

 
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