First AAPS Middle School Robotic Team makes their Debut

The first ever Ann Arbor Public School Forsythe Middle School Robotics team premiered in formal competition on December 12 in Bedford, Michigan. In total, 35 teams from around Michigan participated at the “Bedford FIRST”(For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Competition.

The Forsythe robotics team is the first and only middle school team in the entire AAPS district, while high school teams in the area have had FIRST robotics teams since 2009. The Forsythe Team—team 10721, the Vikings — they learned a great deal and had a ton of fun. The team did not emphasis winning, but building each team member up, playing with technology, and cooperating with other teams.

The FIRST Robotic competition mixes the thrill of a sport with hands-on experience in science and technology to help youth explore how exciting a career in engineering or technology can be. Students pilot remote-controlled robots, perform all the mechanical trouble-shooting, and learn to work together as a team in both the robot club and during the competition itself.

At a unique moment of the Bedford competition, three Forsythe girls solely manned the Vikings robot during one heat. Technology teacher Charles Centivany is the “Project Lead the Way Instructor”, which includes robotics instruction, at Forsythe. Centivany, in his first year with the AAPS, spearheaded the formation of the robotics club at the middle school.

“I teach Project Lead the Way’s Gateway (middle school) and Pathways (high school) programs,” said Centivany. “The program focuses on project-based learning, the engineering design process, and developing and maintaining excitement for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics.)”

Centivany also has past experience working with a robotics team, and knew he wanted to bring the program to AAPS.

“I have been the coach for a FIRST robotics team in Maryland (3650 RoboRaptors),” said Centivany. “The middle school version of the program is called FIRST Tech challenge — that’s what we’re doing at Forsythe. It is an international program. I wanted to bring it to AAPS because I’ve seen how it can change kids lives and give kids who don’t typically have an avenue to develop their interest in STEAM a format to do so. Plus it’s fun, in an addictive sort of way.”

Other coaches include Robert McGinnis, an Ann Arbor-area driving simulator engineer, and Edward Naines, who is also a helicopter pilot with the Michigan Army National Guard. Naines thinks robots are a great educational, as well as recreational, activity.

“The positive aspects are giving the kids an opportunity to get their hands on building things,” said Naines.  “So many of the kids love creating things with their hands and they don't often have an opportunity to do this at home or at school; they mostly read books, or stare at their electronic devices. Building something with one's own hands is a great skill that not only teaches kids how to problem-solve, but also empowers them in ways that are real and grounded.”

Nikash Prakash is an 8th grader who is on the Forsythe team. Prakash said he wanted to join the team both for the enjoyment as well as the skills learned in the process.

“I decided to join robotics club because it is very fun and I get to work with the robot stuff,” said Prakash. “This is important because this can help me with jobs in that field.”

Prakash also had some advice for others thinking of joining the team.

“This is fun, you should try it at your school, but it helps if you know how to drive a remote controlled car because the robot uses the exact same controls,” he added.

There are currently about 25 students in total in the Forsythe robot club. Ten Forsythe students participated in the competition at Bedford.

There are also artistic and business development aspects to being on the team, such as designing their T-shirts and seeking funding. While Skyline High School’s robotics team members did not attend the Bedford competition, many have been helping weekly during the middle school robotic club meetings after school.

As the team now prepares for next year, they are seeking sponsors and community support to build their own team and help other AAPS middle schools start teams.