After a season of hard work, dedication, and ingenuity, Yeshivat Frisch’s “CouGears” Robotics First Tech Challenge (FTC) Team 15762 was awarded a slot in the state robotics championship tournament in March. The team earned their spot by being awarded the coveted THINK AWARD following two rigorous rounds of judging at the NJ North East Conference Tournament earlier this month. The achievement comes just weeks after Frisch’s robotics team “The Vertical Slides” won first place at the CIJE Robotics Tournament in December 2021, which was the first in-person CIJE competition in nearly two years.
The moment is a time for reflection among the students and faculty who have proudly witnessed and spearheaded the growth of Frisch Robotics over the past four years. “Robotics has gone from being an after-school club to being a full program and full-fledged academic team,” said Frisch’s robotics faculty advisor and science and engineering teacher Travis Merritt.
Currently, Frisch Robotics contains seven teams and three programs: LEGO Mindstorms, for basic building and coding skills; CIJE-VEX, which incorporates more complex, mechanical functions while building off of their coding skills learned in LEGO Mindstorms; and FTC, which is an international competition, involving both state and private schools and offering cross-collaboration opportunities. (For instance, Frisch’s FTC team had a collaboration with Pascack Valley Pioneers, another strong team.)
Isabelle Bersson ‘22, one of the administrative officers on the varsity FTC team, has experienced this growth of the program firsthand. “My freshman year I joined a small group of like-minded people (mostly boys) to build and code LEGO mindstorm every Monday evening,” she said. “Then the program shifted from the mindstorm to the CEIJ Vex model where we got a chance to compete and go head to head with other schools. During this time the very first FTC team was forming. Over my four years here I have seen more girls join the team, and the focus turned from just a small after school club to a competition team that placed in states last year. We have grown and been able to take the older more experienced coders and builders and use them as resources for the other JV teams, creating our own little self sufficient network of knowledge.”
Four years ago there were 20 students in the program; today there are 60, who put in a combined hundreds of hours each week. The teams are also utilizing more complex technologies than even two years ago. For example, thanks to current FTC captain Eitan Weinberg ‘22, the team is designing their robot in CAD software before building it.
Students have observed their own skills improve over time. “I first became involved in robotics at Frisch towards the end of my freshman year. I instantly fell in love with the club and enjoyed being part of the community of like-minded individuals it built for me. My skills as a builder, coder and administrative leader have greatly developed throughout my four years, culminating in my position as senior captain on FTC this year,” said Eliana Bane ‘22.
Jude Shankman ‘23, who sees robotics as his future career path, emphasized the role of creativity and collaboration within the field. “The best part of the robotics program is the freedom in how you reach goals,” he said. “You’re not given instructions for what robot you should build. You have to come up with that with your team and apply yourselves to the best of your collective abilities to succeed. Nothing is more satisfying than working for weeks on a component for your robot and seeing it work perfectly in tandem with one of your partners’ components. Collaboration is at the heart of the program.”
In addition, Frisch robotics students are known for reaching out to help teach kids at local elementary and middle schools, and will be hosting other high schools to prepare for another of the upcoming tournaments.
It’s also just a whole lot of fun.
“Within Frisch, robotics has been a great way to socialize and meet new people,” said David Smigel ‘22, one of VEX’s two coding captains. “It allows you to work as a team and accomplish great things along with other kids, growing closer as you do so. Meets are also a great time to meet or see students from other schools who have unique perspectives on the subject.”
As for the future? “The way I see it, after three years of Frisch robotics, the program is constantly evolving,” observed Smigel. “The structure is constantly changing to more efficiently teach students different kinds of problem solving and robotics skills in accordance with their own ability.”