Middle School Robotics Stands Out

This story shines a light on one of the Middle School’s most popular after-school programs, Robotics! While the piece was originally written in March when Chapin was still at 100 East End Avenue, we have included updates* about how team members are continuing to sharpen their skills from home. 

On any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon, the Middle School becomes a hub of exhilarating activity as scores of students explore the thrilling world of robotics. During visits to the sixth, seventh and eighth floors, these eager roboticists ­­­– 70 students on four teams! – were learning how to build, program and maneuver their own machines, while fostering STEAM skills, confidence and friendships along the way.

The Chapin Bots, the division’s robust robotics initiative, is part of the Swarzman Family Robotics Program and directed by Trude Goodman, Head of the Middle School Technology Department. Here are team highlights:

JV Robotics

 Members of this team kicked off the season by building their very own robots, the “Lego EV3.” Jumping off their initial successes, the students progressed to figuring out how to program their robots to complete simple tasks like moving and turning. Once students became comfortable with the basics, they were introduced to the first challenge of the year: the “robot runway.”

For this assignment, the team was asked to program its robots to “walk” down the runway, turn and come back. Ms. Goodman noted that the students were encouraged to decorate their robots for their runway debuts, adding a sense of playfulness to the challenge. Next up, JV team members will gain experience with the various sensors, such as touch, ultrasonic and color, as they navigate their robots through intricate maze obstacles.

Autumn Becker (Middle School Science Department Head), Juliette Berg (Middle School Science), Anna Mello (Middle School Science), Robert Morales (Technology Support and Services)

FLL (First Lego League)
The FLL team, which is made up of two smaller teams, the “Compost Commuters” and the “Sanitation Sisters,” focuses on the fundamental principles of robot design, programming, innovation and core values. Embracing this year’s theme, “City Shaper,” these two groups decided to address the issue of food waste in our city, designing solutions around composting for homes and businesses. In December, the team hosted eight other local teams in the Assembly Room for FLL’s annual scrimmage, an excellent learning opportunity.

After a qualifying event on February 1 at Horace Mann School, during which the students competed against teams from across New York City, Compost Commuters received the first place Overall Champions award, and the Sanitation Sisters earned the Robot Game Award. Both teams are eligible to compete in a future New York City Championship. Congratulations!

Trude Goodman (Middle School Technology Department Head), Richard Jenkins (Lower School Technology Integrator), Yolanda Martín (Spanish and Class 6 Advisor) and Michelle Gelbs (a graduate student)


True to its name, this team is dedicated to programming robots to play soccer. The students began the year by strengthening their team-building abilities, while designing elaborate prototypes of original games. Next, they were introduced to soldering, which required dozens of solder joints to construct complex circuits on printed circuit boards. While some projects fell short of their expectations, the students learned invaluable lessons about perseverance and flexibility.

In earlier practice sessions, the students focused on fabricating simpler initiatives and becoming familiar with online resources such as Adobe Illustrator as well as laser cutting. This team also learned to code for a variety of sensors that will enable the robots to move down the “field,” kick the ball and score goals.

David Arnstein (Upper School Science Department Head) and Jeff Garcia (Technology Support)


To begin, the Drones team made projects influenced by design-thinking principles and developed these initiatives using Chapin’s 3D printers and laser cutter/engraver. Divided into pairs, the students then embarked on the drone-building process, first fashioning a smaller drone, called “Drone 1.0,” intended to expose team members to the mechanics of drone piloting.

After safely honing their piloting skills with Drone 1.0, the students have advanced to designing and building a more sophisticated model, “Drone 2.0.” In addition to employing Chapin’s makerspace equipment to create their unique machines, the team members are practicing coding techniques with the help of Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform.

Jeff Garcia (Technology Support) and Nisa Wheatley (Humanities and Class 5 Advisor)

*Distance-Learning Updates: What’s Happening from Home?

Team members are getting ready to make a Rube Goldberg machine, designed to perform a simple task in an overly complicated way, by trying out different engineering principles through a number of small building challenges using materials found at home.

 FLL (First Lego League): Team members are preparing for the 2020-2021 FLL season by brainstorming possible problems and solutions based on a “teaser” for next year’s theme.

RoboSoccer/Drones: Team members have the choice of making a soccer game in the coding platform Scratch or using materials at home to make a tabletop game.