A major step forward has been taken in the movement to sanction robotics as an official sport in high schools across the country. FIRST and BEST Robotics have partnered with the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to launch sanctioned robotics competitions throughout Texas that will end in two statewide championships – one in the fall and one in the spring.
The Texas robotics pilot program, and similar initiatives in Connecticut and Minnesota, allow for high school robotics teams to be recognized as official sports teams and receive similar support of other activities. These benefits include extracurricular program structures; the active support of school executives, teachers and community leaders; and the opportunity to apply for varsity sports letters for high performance.
“There is a clear need to prepare today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow, many of which are STEM-related,” UIL Executive Director Charles Breithaupt said. “STEM is a top priority for UIL, and FIRST and BEST have a proven track record of success in preparing students for a future in STEM careers through robotics competition.”
These efforts come at a critical time as STEM occupations are growing 1.7 times faster than non-STEM careers in the United States, according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Houston Chronicle reported “that less than 20 percent of all high schools in Texas have a robotics program,” adding that the “new UIL distinction could help smaller school districts get in on the growing science, technology, engineering and math field.”
Scott Rippetoe, who runs the robotics program for the Conroe Independent School District, said the official designation will help get more students interested in – and aware of – robotics as an extracurricular option. Conroe introduced its robotics team in 1997, Rippetoe said, and the team now has 65 students.
“I’ve been doing robotics for so long that to have the district get on board, having the UIL designation adds to that. It’s like robotics is coming of age,” Rippetoe told The Houston Chronicle.
Meanwhile in Georgia, coding will soon be among the core requirements for high school graduation. The State Board of Education is expected to approve standards for three new computer science courses – Embedded Computing, Web Development, and Game Design: Animation and Simulation – that students can substitute for math, science or foreign language credits.
“Robotics is a sport for the 21st century. The skills students can learn, including teamwork, collaboration and problem solving, are the same as those learned in other sports but unlike most sports, robotics provides all students – no matter their background or physical ability – the opportunity to become a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professional,” said FIRST President Donald E. Bossi. “That’s why FIRST believes all states should recognize the hard work of students, Coaches and Mentors with statewide support.”