LYNNFIELD HIGH SCHOL seniors Gavin Fair (left) and Colin McCormick gave a demonstration of William the Robot Dog during the School Committee’s March 14 meeting. (Courtesy Photo)
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Exposing robotics and STEM education to students at a young age is the best way to help children develop a passion for them, two Lynnfield High School seniors said at the School Committee’s March 14 meeting.
Gavin Fair and Colin McCormick formed the nonprofit organization FMG Robotics Foundation with Governor’s Academy senior Sidarth Gaonkar. McCormick is the nonprofit organization’s president, Fair is the chief executive officer and Gaonkar is the treasurer/head of marketing.
“Gavin and I have always been interested in STEM, but we felt as though we weren’t really being exposed to higher-level technologies that we were really fascinated by such as virtual reality, robotics and higher-level programming,” said McCormick.
McCormick said the three friends formed the FMG Robotics Foundation in order to raise awareness about STEM education and STEM literacy in schools. The foundation decided to build a robot dog, which they named William.
“I have always had a personal love for Boston Dynamics,” said McCormick. “They built a yellow robot dog, which was a huge inspiration for me. We have a lot of contacts, including an amazing company called Unitree Robotics. We worked with them to develop William.”
McCormick said William, which cost $5,000 to build, is the “perfect gateway to expose students to robotics.”
“We decided to create a one-for-all presentation on robotics,” said McCormick. “William is the perfect way to do that.”
McCormick said the FMG Robotics team recently brought William to Huckleberry Hill School and Summer Street School to introduce him to fourth-graders.
“The kids’ faces absolutely lit up and got super excited when they saw William,” said McCormick.
School Committee member Kate DePrizio said her fourth grade daughter enjoyed meeting William and learning about STEM from the FMG Robotics team.
Fair said the FMG Robotics team has been giving STEM lessons at the Torigian Family YMCA in Peabody, and said William has played an important role in the lessons.
“We are teaching the basics of STEM education,” said Fair.
McCormick said FMG Robotics encourages students to experiment.
“William is great for that initial spark,” said McCormick. “But when students want to learn a concept, the best way to do it is hands-on learning. When we go to the YMCA, we are coming in with an experiment. We are not coming in with a slideshow and worksheets. We want to expose students to ideas in a fun way.”
McCormick recalled that FMG Robotics hosted a STEM fair on the Town Common last summer. He said a number of high school students volunteered at the fair.
“It was very similar to a science fair, but it was open to everyone,” said McCormick. “We had students who haven’t entered the school system yet come. We had the Boston Dynamics dog at the fair, which was really fun. The older generations of students were able to spark so much more interest by giving back to the community. Having the interactions between the two age groups was super important. It was a win-win situation.”
Fair and McCormick gave a demonstration of William, which entailed having the robotic dog walk around and roll on the floor at the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center.
“William only has only one screw in his head,” said McCormick. “There used to be four. The reason why is because William has fallen down the stairs so many times. His head popped off every single time because of the way he is connected. It modified students and it started damaging him over time. I tell students this represents he is not perfect. I am still a high school student, and I know everything is not going to be perfect and you are always going to make mistakes. I think students relate to that when they see William fall over or if he doesn’t work.”
McCormick recalled that FMG Robotics recently gave a presentation about talent versus hard work to professors and students at Yale University. He said FMG Robotics also set up a booth at Northeastern University’s Engineering for Everyone Expo.
“I am looking forward to giving more university talks,” said McCormick.
In response to a question from School Committee Chair Rich Sjoberg, McCormick said the FMG Robotics team has reached out to schools, colleges and companies to inform them about their work. He said that has resulted in the nonprofit organization giving presentations at different events. He said the outreach initiatives also led to the FMG Robotics team going on a tour of Boston Dynamics’ headquarters in Waltham and attending Mass Robotics’ Block Party in Boston.
“If there is one thing that students can take away from our work is that you are more than a high school student if you take that initial step,” said McCormick. “If you say, ‘I am more than a high school student. This is a skill that I have,’ adults will find that super intriguing. The one thing that benefits any student is having passion and being excited about what you are doing. It has worked out great for us.”
School Committee member Jamie Hayman was blown away by McCormick and Fair’s presentation.
“I love this,” said Hayman. “Great, great work.”
School Committee member Phil McQueen called McCormick and Fair’s presentation “very impressive.”
Hayman asked McCormick and Fair what can the School Department do to expand robotics and STEM education at all four schools. He recalled that both seniors helped form the Robotics Club at LHS.
McCormick said the Hour of Code is a great way to introduce STEM activities to younger students.
“The biggest thing is the initial spark,” said McCormick. “Once you light that fire, they realize how exciting it is. Realizing that at a young age as opposed to realizing that in high school makes a huge difference.”
“The Hour of Code was one of the greatest things ever,” said Fair. “The kids were so excited about it. Their faces lit up with joy after completing each level because they were full of accomplishment. They were so happy. I think the biggest thing is bringing awareness to it. If you bring it to them, the people who are interested in it will stick with it.”
Superintendent Kristen Vogel said school officials are looking to have more LHS students volunteer at the elementary schools’ STEAM classrooms to help generate more student interest in the subject.
McCormick said FMG Robotics will stay active once the students enroll in college.
“FMG Robotics is a senior-based organization,” said McCormick. “We want to make sure FMG Robotics stays active no matter where we are. Lynnfield is always going to have a special place in my heart. I am looking forward to coming back and giving talks.”
School Committee Vice Chair Stacy Dahlstedt was impressed with McCormick and Fair’s “amazing” work.
“Both of you are incredibly impressive, genuine and articulate,” said Dahlstedt.
Sjoberg said he was “beyond impressed” with McCormick and Fair’s work and accomplishments.
“I hate to lose you in our school district,” said Sjoberg. “Whichever college gets you both is going to be extremely fortunate.”
In response to a question from Dahlstedt, Fair said the middle school’s STEM classes really helped foster his love of technology. He said LHS teacher Audrey Coats has done a “wonderful job” teaching computer science.
McCormick said the high school’s faculty has also helped both students develop a passion for STEM education.
“I don’t think Gavin and I would have taken the steps we have taken if we didn’t have the faculty that we have at the high school,” said McCormick. “They do such an amazing job. The same is true for the whole district.”
Fair and McCormick thanked the School Committee for giving them the opportunity to discuss their work.