April 19, 2018
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Chris Cahill looks up from the floor of the cafeteria, where he’s connecting rubber mats for a class project.
“Robots do things automatically,” he says, returning to his task.
PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIChris CahillThere you have it. Forget those sci-fi films in which humanoid machines take over the world. This is high school, where the goals for a robot are less lofty:
Make it roll. Make it turn. Make it grab.
In January, friar Chris became the first teacher of Roger Bacon’s first course in Robotics. The syllabus can be summed up in one sentence: Teams of students build a mobile apparatus from a kit that looks like an Erector set.
Josiah McGee is ready to put his robot to the test.
“They wanted more technology done,” he says of the school’s decision to add Robotics to the curriculum. “I am an engineer, although my big thing is computing,” which makes him the logical teacher. Last fall, “I told them I needed $6,000 for parts for the class, and they said, ‘Fine.’ I told them I could take 18 students.” Seventeen signed up.
Josiah McGeeAbove, Chris checks in with Conor Healy. The robot’s job is to roll, turn and grab.
Today, his team is one of four that’s ready to test their project, a lanky contraption with no personality but loads of battery-powered pep. “You’ve got the best design for picking things up,” Chris assures him as the robot whirs, clicks and buzzes its way across the rubber mat.
The deceptively simple road test: Josiah will maneuver his robot via remote control to left plastic rings and either deposit them on tiered pegs or roll up a ramp and drop them in a bucket. Points are given for degree of difficulty, the top peg garnering the most.
That’s when you see how tricky this is. An effective robot is perfectly balanced and easy to steer, with a well-placed claw for targeted grabbing. Josiah has this down pat. For some other teams, it’s back to the drawing board.
The robots come from a kit, but there’s flexibility in assembly. The makeshift lab where this happens is around the corner from the cafeteria in a too-small space that once housed Home Economics.
Somehow they’ve crammed enough tables in here to accommodate six teams of students at various stages of progress. “I’ve got people in here for all different reasons,” Chris says.
“I’m gonna become an electrician,” says Daniel Michaels.
“I thought it would be cool,” says Jalen Childress.
Above, Sean Larson, Ethan Nye and Conor Healy: Theirs is the only team that named their robot; Oscar Stehlin and Daniel Michaels making adjustments to their robot.Conor Healy
Free from constraints of a classroom setting, team members banter while they tinker. Chris moves from one group to the next, available for questions. “I enjoy this as long as I feel like I’m teaching them something,” he says. “I want them to know what the parts are and how they work, to understand the components that go into a robot.” For example, “I want them to learn the difference between a motor and a servo and how they’re used.” (Explaining that would take more room than we have.)
Unlike a Roomba that sweeps your floor on demand, these robots have no mind of their own. That would require advanced programming, which Chris is eager to tackle down the road. He also plans to revive the Spartronics so teens can enter “challenges”, matching wits and robot-building skills with teams across the country. At stake is millions of dollars in scholarships offered by schools and corporations.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
For now, it’s back to the basics. At this point, the week before spring break, “Some students are done testing their robots,” according to Chris. “Some are still trying to figure it out.” Ethan Nye, Conor and Sean Larson hunker over their table beneath a handwritten sign that reads, “Jenny”, the name they’ve given their creation.
“We are about to get ours to work” by adjusting the lever arm, says Ethan, opening the workbook they’re using as a guide. Unfortunately, “Once you solve one problem, four more come up.” Issues might be resolved with something as simple as a twist tie. Other times, rebuilding is required. Asked what they’ve learned so far, one student says,“We learned patience, mostly.”
Chris tries hard to instill confidence. “They’re not sure they can do it. You have to keep telling them, ‘You can do it.’”
After all, they’re not just building robots. They’re building skills for life.
Pope Francis has recently reminded us that the universal call to holiness is the everlasting project of all Christians. And so let us utilize April 22nd, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to assist those being called to a particular expression of holiness: priesthood and religious life. Prayer for Vocations must become a disposition that grows into invitation. And that same prayer will help us know who to invite. And because of prayer those we will invite will be open to saying yes!
So please focus your prayer on April 22nd for the intention that men and women around the world will accept the invitation of God’s call to priesthood and religious life. Who knows, they may hear that call through us and because of our prayer for them. Their call is their path to holiness. And we all want to become holy, don’t we?
–Fr. Richard Goodin, OFM
PHOTO BY iStock.com
Other dangerous situations in the home that may cause falls are:
The following checklist is designed to help seniors minimize the risk of falling in their home:
Use helping devices, such as canes or walkers, as directed by your healthcare provider.
Wear nonslip, low-heeled shoes or slippers that fit snugly. Avoid walking around in stocking feet.
Wishing everyone safe travels,
Michelle Viacava, RN
PHOTO BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMLondon sightseerCaoimhin Ó LaoideThe English Speaking Conference (ESC) of the Order gets together twice a year, as do the other conferences in the Order. What makes the ESC unique is that it is the only conference held together by language. All the others are in closer geographic proximity.
So, last week the ESC met in London, England, from April 7-13. Our host was the Custody of the Immaculate Conception, based in London, with Patrick Lonsdale as Custos taking the lead. This Province dates its origin to 1224, during the lifetime of St. Francis. Since they are currently down in numbers, they have become a dependent custody to Ireland.
The first two days were full of the six U.S. provinces considering a restructuring. There was a lot of work in preparing for the May 30 Chapters happening simultaneously. Some highlights from our ESC general meeting included: Our General Definitor, Caoimhin Ó Laoide, spoke about issues in the worldwide Franciscan Order. We discussed the document preparing for the World Synod of Bishops on Young People. There was a Study Day on the Franciscan Stance about Moral Theology by Tom Nairn. John Puodziunas gave an update on the Financial Situation of the Order. Most important to me were that all of these sessions were punctuated by very moving personal sharing by our fellow provincials describing an encounter in their province that was very life-giving.
Finally, yes, we took an afternoon to explore London! It is really amazing for an American to walk through buildings that were built by the Norman invaders from the 11th Century and be treated to the free museums with incredible art pieces. The beauty of England was really dazzling. Most of our weather was a light, misty rain that the English call “soft days”. It just made the breaks of sun great.
I’m personally learning more about our Franciscan life from these gatherings. We share the same commitment to the care of our brothers. Not just our formal sessions but the conversations as we walked to a nearby pub are part of the learning, and laughing, and being brothers.
– Mark Soehner, OFM
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Josiah McGee is ready to put his robot to the test.But their grade for the class is based upon more than what they build. Chris hopes they will work as a team, follow instructions, analyze problems and brainstorm solutions. Here, the process is as important as the product.
PHOTO BY iStock.comFalls in the home can occur in bedrooms, bathrooms, and on stairs. For seniors, falls in and around the home are the most frequently occurring accident. In fact, falls and the resulting injuries can accelerate the need to move to a long-term care facility. Causes of falls in and around the home related to health and age changes are problems with balance, slow reflexes, poor eyesight, and use of certain medications.