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Penn Hills keeping robotics classes will allow BotsIQ to continue

Michael DiVittorio
| Friday, April 15, 2016, 8:57 p.m.
James Ternet, Harry Anderson and Dylan Haines, members of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot. With Robotics II and III classes now off the district's 'comprehensive programming reform' chopping block, Penn Hills High School students will continue to take part in Bots IQ competition next year. For the story, see Page XX.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
James Ternet, Harry Anderson and Dylan Haines, members of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot. With Robotics II and III classes now off the district's 'comprehensive programming reform' chopping block, Penn Hills High School students will continue to take part in Bots IQ competition next year. For the story, see Page XX.
Daniel Ternet of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team works on its BotsIQ robot.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Daniel Ternet of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team works on its BotsIQ robot.
Ryan Frankoski and Adrian Ruiz, members of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team, work on the design of their BotsIQ robot on a computer.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Ryan Frankoski and Adrian Ruiz, members of the “Straight Outta Penn Hills” robotics team, work on the design of their BotsIQ robot on a computer.
Zephaniah Ferguson and Marcello Frollo, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Zephaniah Ferguson and Marcello Frollo, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot.
Marcello Frollo, Ray Garaisch and Zephaniah Ferguson, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Marcello Frollo, Ray Garaisch and Zephaniah Ferguson, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, work on their BotsIQ robot.
Ray Garaisch, Marcello Frollo, Josh Owens, Zephaniah Ferguson and Dolores Kuzmanko, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, test their BotsIQ robot.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Ray Garaisch, Marcello Frollo, Josh Owens, Zephaniah Ferguson and Dolores Kuzmanko, members of the 'War Beeps' robotics team, test their BotsIQ robot.

Penn Hills High School robotics classes will continue next school year, which should enable more students to participate in the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition.

Robotics II and III were among 25 electives on the chopping block as part of what district officials call “comprehensive programming reform.” Those two classes were pulled from the list prior to the school board vote approving the changes March 29. The updated reform plan is posted on the district's website with elimination of those two robotics classes crossed out.

“I don't know who made the call,” Michael Springer, high school technology education teacher, said about keeping the classes. “I'm glad they did. (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are) a big push everywhere now. (Robotics) is as STEM as you can get. I expect we'll have better bots (next year).”

Superintendent Nancy Hines said the initial plan released in February represented the maximum changes expected. The school board voted later that month to authorize the administration to forward the plan to the state Department of Education for further review.

“We will continue to make revisions as new information is made known and new perspectives are offered,” Hines said. “Realistically and in the spirit of continuous improvement, the plan could be revised up through the first day of school next year or even beyond as we monitor implementation.”

On April 8 and 9, Penn Hills participated in the statewide BotsIQ competition at California University of Pennsylvania, where Plum High School's “Knockout” robotics team took first place.

Springer said his robotics students do not measure success in wins and losses, but in education and experience.

“For us it's more about the process than how we finish,” Springer said about his two teams. “We're getting much better at the process. ... This year was the best year we've ever had.”

This is the sixth year that Penn Hills has competed in BotsIQ, district spokeswoman Teresita Kolenchak said.

Team 1, “Straight Outta Penn Hills,” consisted of juniors Dylan Haines, Harry Anderson, Ryan Frankoski, Adrian Ruiz and seniors Joshua Oakley and Malcolm Nowyn. Captains were senior James Ternet and his brother, junior Dan Ternet. Their entry was a traditional square-shaped robot with a wedge design.

The team finished in a 16-way tie for 49th place with a record of 1-2, according to online BotsIQ results.

“It was very exciting and a bit stressful,” James Ternet said. “It's a very exciting time overall.”

“It was something new and interesting,” Dan Ternet said. “I've had other classes on robotics so I kind of knew what I was doing. It's still a new experience being a first-time competitor out there. ... We learn a good bit of problem-solving and design.”

Dan Ternet said his brother has already started helping him with next year's robot design.

Team 2, “War Beeps,” consisted of seniors Dolores Kuzmanko, Colin Dalliba, Josh Owens, Robbie Frey and Zephaniah Ferguson. Captains were seniors Marcello Frollo and Ray Garaisch. Their entry was a triangle-shaped robot with a wedge design that could spin in an effort to chop up opposing robots. The team finished in an eight-way tie for 17th place with a record of 2-2.

“When you get (to BotsIQ) there's a bunch of other teams that really know what they're doing, and they're really serious,” Garaisch said. “You've got to keep that mindset. ... There's a lot of teams that work on these bots for two or three years, and we only have a couple months.”

Penn Hills students started designing their robots in September.

“It's a really good experience and really good learning curve to be able to participate in something like this,” Frollo said. “As much as you learn, it's also fun, which makes it easier. ... It makes it that much easier when your teammates are your friends.”

Springer said the teams' robots will be retired to a wall in the classroom where the shells of past tournament robots are mounted.

He said the juniors already have ideas for their senior-year robots.

More information about BotsIQ is available online at www.botsiqpa.org.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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