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Why a robot takeover in Midtown is good for New York kids

INTRO: This weekend, high school students from around the world have taken over much of the Javitz convention center for the 14th annual FIRST robotics competition. Katie Toth takes us there to see how building robots can help kids learn about science and technology…Firsthand.


AMBI: Dadudu DUH du DUH! “Charge!”

It’s a little like a college basketball game. With the sound of the bell, the game has begun. Kids cheer from the bleachers while robots throw massive coloured balls back and forth, earning points for catches, goals, assists, and more.

We’re at the practice round of the 14th New York City FIRST robotics competition–an event where high schoolers build a robot and make it work with others so they can compete for awards. Think varsity sport, but with power tools and safety goggles.

SINGING: Andy Grammar

Those kids singing along to Andy Grammar in the background? They’re students at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn. And ninth grade student Cristina Carnegie told me this team is what’s made her interested in technology.

CARNEGIE:  I never even considered robotics until one of my friends told me about how awesome it is and I never regret it one bit, not at all.

TOTH: Does that mean you’re going to be an engineer?

CARNEGIE: I’m thinking about it.

One of Carnegie’s friends takes me behind the competition arena to The Pit, where all the students are busily working on their Bots.

And supervising this endeavor is science teacher  Filipo Despenza. He’s been coaching a robotics team at his school for 6 years. Despenza says he’s seen that this kind of hands-on learning works.

DESPENZA:  They’re definitely learning faster. They’re taking what they’re learning and applying it so when they’re sitting in that trig course they are understanding why that triangle is so important.

David Burns is the executive director of  the national center for science and civic engagement, which tries to get students from kindergarten to college interested in science.  He’s heard stories like Despenza before. Burns says many students tune out science because they’re taught in a dry, unappealing way. Burns says if teachers make sure their students have a stake in what’s being taught, then–

BURNS: –the interest will shed itself onto and the topic that the teacher wants the student to learn. (15 seconds)

Here in Manhattan, students are here from across the US—along with Brazil, Mexico, the UK and Canada. They’re all getting ready to show off what they’ve got.

You can catch the competition this weekend at the Javitz Convention Center.

Katie Toth, Columbia Radio News.


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