How’d Robotics Emerge at FDR ?


Serhiy Dmytruk, Reporter

The Robotics Club at Franklin D. Roosevelt HS was a development that took place over the past 4 years and continues to expand in its operation. Originally, a simple after school hang out for a small group of friends, the club evolved into a more elaborate after school activity each year. Now robotics is an available class at FDR.
In the academic year of 2009-2010, the concept for a Robotics Club was set in motion by Galileo Borsky, who proposed the idea for the club to Mr. Catalano. At the time, Galileo was an FDR junior who had a rigorous class schedule, which he shared with some of his friends. Together, they wanted an after school activity where a group of likeminded students, such as themselves, would be able to relax after a day of classes and engage in their interest by experimenting with technology through active hands-on practice.
Although officially robotics is a branch of technology that incorporates design, construction, and application of robots; the name “Robotics Club” was the most appropriate title for a club that permitted activity with a multitude of technology practice in school. Mr. Catalano was appointed as the organizer of the club, but he decide to maintain the Robotics Club as an after school student organized community. Galileo and his friends created a group of seven people who found engineering and robotics to be possible career choices in their future, and actively participated in the club on a weekly basis. Each person provided resources for the club. Some students visited Radio-Shack for parts and tools, some found books in the library about interesting topics, and some brought interesting devices such as radio and computers to take apart and learn from.
In the following year, 2010-2011, the Robotics Club endured a near inactive state. The club members at the time were seniors who were concerned more about college admissions and finding job opportunities. Mr. Catalano remained in charge of the club and decided to purchase the LEGO NXT Mindstorm v2 bot for students with less experience in robotics to develop an elementary knowledge about the subject through active practice.
That same year, a majority of current FDR seniors entered the school as freshmen. They branched throughout the school’s activities and clubs into their areas of interest and skills. Among these students were Cosmo and Tycho Borsky, brothers of Galileo and their mutual acquaintance Serhiy Dmytruk. They initially experienced difficulty in participating in robotics, because clubs at the school usually take place during period 9, when freshmen still attend their classes according to the extended schedule. During the Spring semester, Cosmo and Serhiy attended school during the Saturday tutoring program.  They practiced with the LEGO NXT Mindstorm v2 bot. Serhiy and Cosmo had some prior experience with robotics and developed greater skills in the subject individually with the help of Mr. Catalano. It was decided that Cosmo and Serhiy would become co-presidents of the Robotics Club and take full responsibility of its function for the next few years.
The concept behind the Robotics Club remained as it was initially intended. The Robotics Club is maintained as a community of dedicated students of similar interest experimenting in technology, mathematics, and engineering. Students gathered after school, where attendance was not questioned, in a setting similar to a class room- but much more relaxed. Students were able to share ideas in the company of others, have experimental practice with technology that would not be available to students on their own, and have an idea as well as accumulate experience in robotics and related topics.
During 2011-2012, the Robotics Club underwent a revival and became an official school club. Throughout the Fall semester, Cosmo and Serhiy continued advertising the club to their classmates, recruiting new members. On average ten students attended on a weekly basis, every Monday for period 9. The club still used the Lego NXT Mindstorm v2 robot and concentrated on the concepts of robotics through discussions and video documentaries. The Spring term reflected the club’s activities from before.
In 2012-2013, the Robotics Club expanded in activity and members. In the Fall term, the club was extended to take place on Monday and Tuesday during period 9, allowing more time and flexibility for its members. A new curriculum about circuitry became the learning priority for regular robotics after period eight. The school provided a sufficient budget for the club to obtain a few sets of circuitry components ranging from bread boards, LED’s, to transistors. Serhiy and Cosmo created power point presentations, work sheets, and taught the club in a similar manner to a classroom, but students were free to do as they pleased. It was a controlled environment, even on occasions when Mr. Catalano was at meetings, and Serhiy and Cosmo were left to educate their peers. In the Spring term, students learned to create complex circuits and were able to take apart some old desktop computers and learn their functions. Also, in the Spring semester, the Chinese Planning Council decided to fund the FDR Robotics Club, allowing for freshmen to attend the club after period 10. Freshmen robotics continued the old NXT curriculum, developing understanding about robotics in concepts of design, function, and programming.
That year, Mr. Catalano worked with Serhiy and Cosmo to prepare a robotics curriculum that would be appropriate for a class course at FDR. The idea was to create a course that would allow the school to create a robotics team. The curriculum was presented to the principle and awaited an approval, which arrived in the Spring along with a set of twelve VEX Cortex robotics kits for the class.
In 2013-2014, Robotics became an official elective in FDR. The robotics class was presented as an elective course to two freshmen classes with Mr. Catalano as the educator. It’s a course that will continue in the school and seeks to develop as the Robotics Club has expanded. Serhiy and Cosmo will soon leave FDR as the past seniors have, but this year a new set of freshmen are enthusiastic about robotics. Some will stand out and drive the formation of a possible FDR Robotics Team, within the next couple of years.