‘Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for robotics’

by Grace

In Minnesota, high school robotics teams now outnumber boys’ hockey teams.

An explosion in the popularity of high school robotics teams has suddenly made it chic to be geek.

Robotics team members are getting varsity letters and patches, being paraded before school assemblies like other sports stars and seeing trophies in the same lobby display cases as their football, basketball or baseball counterparts. . . .

A telling statistic: For the first time ever, there are more varsity robotics teams than there are boys’ varsity hockey teams in the state. There are 156 high school boys’ hockey teams and 180 robotics teams, up from 153 last year, according to the Minnesota State High School League.

The number of robotics teams in the state is expected to surpass 200 soon, growing from just two in 2006.  Tournaments spur teamwork and a sense of competition, particularly valuable for students who may not have a chance to gain that experience through sports.

“Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for robotics,” said Joe Passofaro, one of the mentors/coaches for the Prior Lake High School robotics team, which won the state championship last year. “We’re getting a group here that is coming onto the world scene.”

High school robotics helps lay the groundwork for STEM studies in college.

The University of Minnesota is already starting to see ripple effects. In 2008, two years after the first robotics teams appeared, 12 students with robotics team experience enrolled at the university’s College of Science and Engineering. Last year that number had grown to 76.

Apparently, there is some disagreement on whether we need more STEM graduates:

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6 Comments to “‘Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for robotics’”

  1. Why do you think this is not happening in our area? I think many people, like me, are clueless about the benefits of these activities. And clearly the school does not have an interest in this; no one is pushing for it. Perhaps it’s because many parents are not heavily involved professionally in this area and find other aspects of education more important. Of course, due to budget issues, now is not an ideal time to propose anything new.

    How math-literate does a child need to be in order to learn Scratch? Is it commonly something that is self taught?

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  2. Last summer my rising 5th grader did a Mindstorms-based robotics class as part of a gifted camp. I wasn’t expecting this, but the class was centered on robot battles.

    We have a technical college locally where one of the professors runs a laser and optics camp for high school students, largely as a way of developing a pipeline of students for the technical college’s laser and optics vocational program.

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  3. Hmm, robot BATTLES in AmyP’s class but robot DANCES in Bonnie’s example. I could speculate about the reasons, but it would be interesting to know why each was chosen. Could it be a gender thing?

    I just saw that a Lego robotics demonstration is being held at our local library this week. IIRC, there is a local homeschooling group that participates in these.

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  4. “…a huge reason why girls feel unwelcomed.”

    There was a funny group dynamic going on. From C’s description, it sounded like the boys in the class treated her like something the cat dragged in (C is mildly autistic). There was a boy who had been winning the robot battles who was really insufferable about it and was trash talking C. The girls, meanwhile, were a minority in the class and were very mutually supportive and very kind to C. And then C started winning and kept winning. C is a very good winner, and I think she was quite gracious to the boy she beat. She even wanted me to invite him for a playdate. (I wasn’t excited about that idea.)

    I can easily imagine the situation going differently (i.e. mean girls), but that’s how it worked out for us this time.

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  5. “My boys have done several of the classes, and only once was there even a single girl in the class.”

    This robotics class is one of the items on the menu for a gifted program, so it may get more girls than it would if it were a stand-alone program.

    At school, C’s female classmates are generally very supportive, and she hasn’t complained about any of them for years. On the other hand, a year or so ago, she told me that the boys in her class thought she was weird.

    At least at this age, I wonder if the “mean girl” thing isn’t oversold. We’ve encountered individuals who match the stereotype (and C herself has her moments), but it hasn’t been at all a consistent thing. (C was once told by a neighbor girl, “You’re lucky you were invited to my party.)

    The coed Little League story is terrible. Do the coaches want a coed team or not?

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  6. “Do the coaches want a coed team or not?”

    Good question.

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