• Dec. 15, 2023

    Robotics team advances to state competition

    Blue BiohazardzAn Upper St. Clair Robotics team placed third overall in the Western Pennsylvania FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Grand Championship – advancing to the PA-West FLL Championship. The team – Blue Biohazardz – also placed second in Robot Design and ninth in Robot Performance. This marks the first time that a USC Robotics team has advanced in this competition.

    The Blue Biohazardz team is comprised of eighth graders Sadie Dilmore, Noa Guizzi, Lily Seal, Suhavi Singh, Mahi Thacker, Emma Wakefield and Betsy Zheng as well as seventh grader Aanya Jha. Coaches include Jake Seal, Amrit Singh and Susan Wakefield.

    More than 60 teams from throughout the region competed in the event, which was held Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, at Aliquippa Junior Senior High School. In total, eight USC Robotics teams with 60 students from Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools participated.

    Teams were scored in four categories – robot design, innovation, core values, and robot performance. Including Blue Biohazardz, five of the eight Upper St. Clair teams were recognized for their performance at the FLL Grand Championship:

    • MicroBitz: third place, Core Values
    • Cruisers: fourth place, Robot Performance
    • Mechanical Mayhem: sixth place, Robot Performance; and Engineering Excellence Award
    • Roboyce: 10th place, Robot Performance

    Second Place - Robot DesignUpper St. Clair’s middle school competitive robotics program is led by Matthew Wilson. He credits the program’s success to the commitment of its students and their coaches, who spend anywhere from four to 12 hours per week practicing for scrimmages and the Grand Championship.

    “This is nothing short of an astounding season,” Mr. Wilson said. “For us to start a program with eight beginner-level teams and have five teams place in the top 10 (out of 60) and two more in the top half (versus teams that are multi-year programs) is incredible. It's a testament to the students and the parent coaches – mostly all of whom had no prior experience with FLL either.”

    In addition to the five USC teams that placed in the top 10, three additional teams – Brick Busters, Pixel Pirates and Revolution Robots – demonstrated growth throughout the season. Upper St. Clair’s progress was evident to others as well.

    “The director for the region, Gordon Walton, told me personally he was amazed at how strong a showing our program made for a year-one crew,” Mr. Wilson said. “And, it has been so positive for the kids, too. At our coaches’ season recap, every single team mentioned how eager the kids are for more in the spring.”

    Friendly competition is at the heart of FLL Challenge, as teams of students in grades 4-8 engage in research, problem-solving, coding and engineering – building and programming a LEGO® robot that navigates the missions of a robot game. As part of Challenge, teams also design an innovative solution to a real-world problem relevant to the theme.

    FLL is based on the six core values of discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun, which were on full display at the Grand Championship.

    “On top of that, I would say that these kids and their coaches showed determination, resourcefulness and enthusiasm,” Mr. Wilson said. “Time and again this season we let the kids face challenges large and small - such as coordinating roles on the team, debugging an issue with the robot, balancing practice time and project time, etc. But we also repeatedly asked the unexpected from them: running robot demos to share their knowledge with their peers, having them organize and referee our own in-house scrimmages, and adapting to rule changes and judging decisions mid-season. In every case, not only did they respond to the shift, they repeatedly rose above it.”

    The PA-West FLL Championship will be held in March. Teams will compete for the opportunity to represent Pennsylvania at the World Festival at the FIRST Championship 2024, set for April 17-20, 2024, in Houston, Texas.

    USC RoboticsIn addition to the competitive middle school FLL teams, USC Robotics has four high school level FIRST Tech Challenge teams as well as non-competitive robotics clubs for students in grades 5-12.

    The non-competitive USC Robotics Club at Boyce Middle School is led by Mr. Matt Henderson, STEAM education teacher. This year, students explored robotics using BirdBrain Technologies' Hummingbird Kits.

    “There are two unique cohorts of students each semester, with each cohort consisting of 20 students for a total of 80 non-competitive robotics students at Boyce,” Tracy Smith, USC Robotics founder and mentor, said. “Unfortunately, there were many more students interested in joining, but we did not have the capacity to accommodate larger numbers.”

    At Fort Couch, Mr. Andrew Bowers leads the non-competitive Robotics Club. Students are using the LEGO Education SPIKE Prime Kit to explore the basics of engineering, design and programming. 

    “This year there are two unique cohorts of non-competitive club students, one for each semester,” Mrs. Smith said. “Fort Couch will have 40 students participating in non-competitive robotics.”

    For more information regarding USC Robotics, visit www.uscrobotics.org.