Kennedy teacher wins coveted FIRST Robotics award

e-Connections Post
Woodie Flowers award winner Greene

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series by Career Technical Education Coordinator Joe Stymeist about the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) and the opportunities it presents for students and staff to participate in compelling Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities. 

At tomorrow night’s Board of Education meeting, the district will honor students, mentors and coaches from Hiram Johnson, Kennedy, Rosemont and the School of Engineering and Sciences for their participation in the 2013-14 FIRST Robotics season.

Each of these four teams did a fantastic job representing themselves, their school and the district at various regional competitions. These teams brought back many awards for their efforts, but winning a trophy pales in comparison to the invaluable skills they learned along the way and will use again and again in their lifetime.

One of the highlights of this past season was the awarding of the Woodie Flowers Award to Kennedy teacher Robert Green.

Dr. Woodie Flowers, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first recipient of a prestigious award that now bears his name. Given to the outstanding mentor in the FIRST robotics competition who best leads, inspires and empowers their team using excellent communication skills, the Woodie Flowers award is coveted among adult leaders of FIRST robotics teams from around the world. The award is given to only one mentor at each regional competition.

This year’s Sacramento Regional Tournament recipient was Greene.

Greene teaches automotive courses at John F. Kennedy High School and brings a wealth of knowledge into his classroom. The extensive training he received while working in the automotive industry and his experience teaching automotive classes at the community college level have enabled him to take the reigns of the last surviving automotive program in the district and turn it into a showcase for high-end Career Technical Education.

If that were not enough, over a five-year period, Greene has volunteered thousands of hours of his time and dedicated himself year-round to coach his students to compete at the highest levels in the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC). Dozens of students can attest to the fact that their FRC experience, guided by Mr. Greene, has prepared them well for life after high school. Simply put, these students know how to persevere under intense pressure and work as a team to solve really complex problems. These innovative skills are crucial to be successful in post-secondary education and the world of work.

I had the pleasure of accompanying Greene and his robotics team on a trip to Southern California to compete in the FIRST San Diego Regional Tournament in early March. This year’s team consists of 14 students and it was refreshing to see that six of these team members were girls. Traditionally, SCUSD’s FIRST Robotics teams have been male-dominated and efforts to get girls involved in STEM activities seem to be paying off. Kennedy’s team has done an outstanding job in not only recruiting and retaining girls, but all six of these young women are excelling in leadership roles.

Last year Greene became the Lead Teacher of an emerging Linked Learning Pathway called Manufacturing and Design (MaD). Linked Learning Pathways such as MaD develop integrated units that bring greater relevance to a student’s learning activities.

In a pathway, teachers collaborate to provide students with a coordinated, coherent curriculum. It is this coordinated effort that enables students to focus on the same content using a different lens as they travel from classroom to classroom. 

In the course of my duties as the district’s coordinator of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, I visit CTE classrooms quite often. Whenever I visit Greene’s classes I am always amazed at the level of engagement and quality of the work. His students are disciplined, on-task and self-directed.

This year, the Kennedy robot sported a four-speed transmission that was designed and built by students. Due to weight limitations, the choice of this transmission required some difficult problem solving. Some of the students researched and developed a carbon fiber manufacturing process to overcome the weight issue. Using a home food preservation system to create a vacuum for the manufacturing process and more sophisticated tools to form the final product, students were able to craft a housing for their transmission that was stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum.

Thanks to Greene, Kennedy’s MaD Linked Learning pathway is making it possible for an ever growing number of students to experience an exciting STEM education.