Campus Life

NASA Awards Grant to Robotics Team at The Gunnery

NASA has awarded a $6,000 grant to The Gunnery for its robotics team, which is entering a robotics competition for the first time. The Gunnery was the only school in Connecticut to receive a Program Growth Grant from the NASA Robotics Alliance Project for the 2018 season. Two other high schools in the state received Sustaining Grants from NASA for their veteran robotics teams.
The grant received by The Gunnery will cover the cost of registration for The Gunnery Gears to compete in the FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition March 16 to 18 at Fairfield University, and at a another competition April 6 to 8 at Hartford Public High School. They will compete against robotics teams from high schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The Gunnery’s rookie team is comprised of 13 students, nine boys and four girls, who range from freshmen to seniors. All are enrolled in Robotics I, one of seven courses in The Gunnery’s new engineering program, which is called Innovation, Design, Engineering and Applied Scholarship (IDEAS).

“NASA was looking for teams that were viable, that they felt had a strong possibility of success. As compared to other schools, where robotics is a club or an afterschool activity, this is part of our curriculum for the IDEAS program,” Monte Blaustein, Director of the IDEAS program and a member of the science faculty at The Gunnery, said when asked why the school’s team was awarded a grant this year.

Students in Robotics I meet four times per week throughout the winter term and learn how to define problems, develop solutions, test their ideas, document and present their plans, work as a team and become skillful innovators, Blaustein said.

Students in other IDEAS classes have been building a scale model of a cogeneration plant, using magnets they repurposed from microwave ovens, and designing a house that is being built (on paper) to accommodate a family of five. Others in the program successfully designed, built and flew a drone, and are starting work on an electric car that will be entered into the statewide Electrathon America competition in April 2019.

According to FIRST Robotics, each team participating in the competition has just six weeks to build and program a robot to perform certain challenging tasks. The clock starts January 6, when the challenge for the 2018 season is officially revealed in a video issued by FIRST Robotics.

“Immediately after that our team will start work on the design and fabrication of the robot that we will enter in competitions. The rules require that the students understand and come up with the design on their own with minimal input from mentors,” Blaustein said.

According to FIRST Robotics, all teams operate under strict rules with limited resources, but can receive guidance from volunteer mentors, including engineers, teachers, business professionals, parents, alumni and others.

So, what makes a winning team? “Aside from completing the challenge revealed on January 6, students have to raise funds, maintain a presence on social media, and every student on the team must understand the basics of how our robot functions. At the competition, judges will interview students to make sure they understand what they actually built,” Blaustein said.

“They’re excited to start building right away,” Blaustein said, noting his students have been using their class time wisely leading up to the reveal on January 6. “We’ve been spending some time on teambuilding and communications skills and learning some of the basics of robotics, such as different types of motors, sensors and robotic arm geometry.”

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.