BERLIN — After seeing success and high interest during its initial run last year, the Worcester County Robotics Team is anticipating extensive growth this fall into next year.
Coach Michele Kosin said this week she plans on laying groundwork that will allow the program to continue to thrive for years after the original members have moved on.
The afterschool club has already seen a bit of a boom since Kosin founded it during the 2011-2012 school year. A Lego robotics team has been added for middle school and intermediate school students, starting in fifth grade, with five members of the official high school level robotics club serving as mentors. According to Kosin, the relationship between the older and younger students is very positive.
“They’re not fighting,” she said. “It’s really amazing how they work together.”
Unlike the high school team, which assembles and competes with large-scale metal robots, the Lego club uses NXT micro controlled pre-programmable plastic creations. The Lego bots also compete in smaller-scale challenges that Kosin described as, “missions.” The team will compete in a tournament on Dec. 8.
While the materials may be different and the challenges on a smaller scale, Kosin explained that the Lego robotics club promotes all of the skills that students on the high school team use, including basic programing, organization, mechanical intuitiveness and teamwork.
The Lego team also introduces younger students to the most important part of working with robotics, said Kosin, which is a willingness to make mistakes.
“It’s okay to do something wrong,” she said. “That’s the first thing they learn. They see that mistakes are okay.”
Last year, the robotics team did well on the tournament circuit, especially for a new team. But both teams, high school and middle school, have left a mark on students, by Kosin’s evaluation.
“I think it builds confidence,” she said.
Through the robotics experience, the students have had several other opportunities as well, including the chance to receive programing training at Johns Hopkins University earlier this month. The robotics team will also be featured on a float during Berlin’s Victorian Christmas Parade and the Lego team has been working to develop a skit that would examine the possibilities for robotics in making senior students’ lives easier.
According to Kosin, a lot of people are reacting with excitement to the program, especially parents.
“The parents have been so supportive. They really want it to keep going,” she said. “Everybody is rolling up their sleeves because they want it to do well.”
This attitude is also clear among students. Many of the upper-classman mentors have siblings in the Lego club that have already expressed an interest in joining the high school team when they are older. Additionally, a few members of the robotics team that graduated from high school last year return occasionally to help.
“They just have such a drive and they want it to succeed for the next generation,” said Kosin.
In that same spirit, Kosin plans on beginning a pilot program this spring for an early robotics team that will include ages five through eight and serve to prepare students for Lego robotics. Kosin also hopes to expand the Lego robotics club next year.
“We’re hoping to have maybe two Lego teams next year,” she said.
All of the club’s expansion and operation plans are highly contingent on both grant funding and the support of schools and the community. While paying for robotics kits and parts can be pricey, Kosin explained travel for tournaments requires a more considerable expense.
Currently, the robotics team is working forward to its tournament season, which will begin this winter, with an event to be held locally this summer. As the program continues to grow, Kosin hopes that Worcester County will be able to host more tournaments and that area schools will be able to support more and larger teams. She said that her goal is to make sure that the club doesn’t just survive but keeps growing after she is no longer coaching it years down the road.