FIRST FORWARD: New season theme announced!

FIRST has unveiled the season theme and game names for the 2021-2022 school year. The FIRST FORWARD season will present students will transportation-inspired challenges and robot games. With the recent news that School District of Philadelphia students will be returning for full-time in-person learning in the fall, we are so excited to see our teams tackle these new games and challenges together!

“Transportation drives us forward, impacting economies around the world and making us all more globally interconnected. In our 2021-2022 robotics season, FIRST® FORWARDSM presented by Qualcomm, our teams have the power to reimagine a path forward and invent the future of transportation.” – FIRST

Read more and watch the season trailer at

Coach Zoe Rooney wins Lindback Award

Congratulations are in order for FIRST Tech Challenge Coach Zoe Rooney, an algebra teacher and school based teacher leader at Strawberry Mansion High School!

Ms. Rooney has won the 2021 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching which honors excellent teachers across the School District of Philadelphia each year.

The Lindback Foundation presents this award to Philadelphia public school teachers “who demonstrate excellence in promoting learning at the highest levels. The teacher award recipients will be chosen based on their activities that improve the intellectual and character development of students.” Read more at

Coach Zoe Rooney prepares for a robot match with her student robot driver at the Philadelphia FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifier in winter 2020. Their robot is seen at their feet.

Philadelphia FIRST LEGO League Tournament Award Show

This week, teams are competing in the fully-virtual 2021 Philadelphia FIRST LEGO League Tournament. Teams of 2nd–8th graders have been working all spring to design robots and complete projects related to the season theme: Game Changers.

Join us Saturday, May 1, at 5pm on the Coalition YouTube channel for the live awards show. Click and subscribe for notifications.

From FIRST: “This robotics season, we’re stepping into the world of sports, play, and fitness – moving, collaborating, competing, and celebrating. In RePLAYSMFIRST® LEGO® League Challenge students will explore the activities we can do in different spaces for play and how we can ensure that our games and activities are fun and accessible for everyone involved.”

The teams are presenting to volunteer judges and uploading robot videos for referee review throughout the week. On Saturday, we’ll celebrate the teams’ accomplishments in a live awards show on YouTube. We’ll also be sharing some of the team’s presentations to the judges so that everyone can see the awesome work the team’s have created.

Central High School has best underwater robot at Seaperch Competition

The Robolancers from Central High School won the Vehicle Performance Award at the 2021 Greater Philadelphia Seaperch competition Friday. The team’s underwater robot safely disposed of underwater “mines” and “debris” to make the “ocean” cleaner and safer. Nailah Shabazz was the team captain, and Calvin Macatantan was the vehicle operator.

Several Coalition teams competed in the event, which is organized by the US Navy and Temple University. Sincere Walker from Parkway Center City Middle College also got a special shoutout for carrying his team to competition.

Four School District of Philadelphia Teachers Selected for Naval Education Workplace Training Program

Four School District of Philadelphia high school science teachers have been selected for the 2021 inaugural cohort of the Naval Education Workplace Training (NEWT) Program.

The teachers are Maya Bhagat of Frankford High School, Lee Burwasser of Academy at Palumbo High School, Paula Miller of Abraham Lincoln High School, and Jason Perez of Murrell Dobbins CTE High School.

The NEWT Program gives teachers a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience, learning engineering skills and conducting research side by side with Navy engineers and scientists. This 8-week summer program will give teachers a taste of life as a professional engineer, and give them crucial insights that they will be able to bring back to their classrooms.

Teachers will work with Navy mentors to develop demonstrations and curriculum materials, and will receive continued mentorship throughout 2021-2022 the academic year including a classroom visit to give students a chance to interact directly with STEM professionals.

The program is a collaboration between Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division and the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition. Teachers receive a $10,000 stipend for completing the 15-month program.

The first-hand experience gained in the NEWT program will give these four teachers insight and perspective to better prepare their students to be the STEM leaders of tomorrow.

NSWCPD Renews STEM Charter, Lauds Partnership with Coalition

Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division has renewed its STEM Charter which aims to support a pipeline of young talent to join the naval engineering workforce. An article in the Department of Defense internal news roundup explains NSWCPD’s current outreach efforts and highlights several partnerships, including the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition.

Philadelphia high school robotics student Jeechieu Ta learns about career opportunities in the Navy at the American Society of Naval Engineers conference at Villanova University in 2016. (PC: RoboLancers)

Since 2019, the partnership between the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition and NSWCPD has matched Navy scientists and engineers with student robotics teams at over 20 Philadelphia schools. This mentorship is valuable for the students who get to build relationships with professional engineers and envision future careers for themselves.

The program is valuable for the mentors as well, who get to meet colleagues from other departments at NSWCPD, and learn project management and communication skills that they can bring back to their work at NSWCPD.

Beyond team mentorship, NSWCPD provides summer internships for high school and college students. And new for summer 2021, the NEWT Program (Naval Education Workforce Training) will give four School District of Philadelphia high school teachers an intensive R&D experience.

Read the full article here.

Deadline: FIRST LEGO League Event Registration

FIRST LEGO League teams planning to compete at the Philadelphia events this spring must register for those events by Monday March 1.

Use these links to navigate to the FIRST Mid-Atlantic event registration system:

Register for the 2021 Philadelphia FLL Challenge Tournament (grades 4-8)

Register for the 2021 Philadelphia FLL Explore Expo (grades 2-4)

Both events will be held virtually on Saturday May 1, 2021.

Concentration and excitement at the 2019 Philadelphia FIRST LEGO League Challenge Qualifier.

Job Posting: Executive Director

The Philadelphia Robotics Coalition seeks to hire our first full-time Executive Director to lead an exciting growth stage for our young organization.

Over the past year, Coalition board and staff have engaged in planning processes to support ongoing growth. Our Strategic Plan revolves around a central question:

“How can the Coalition use robotics programs to drive equitable STEM education for Philadelphia students?”

And the Executive Director will lead the Coalition toward a solution to that question.

Read the full job description, responsibilities, qualifications, and application process here. Applications are due March 19th.

Palumbo RoboGriffins are CoderZ Pro League World Champions!

The RoboGriffins, the student robotics team at Academy at Palumbo high school, won first place today in the CoderZ Pro League World Championship, besting team Explosion from School 1329 in Moscow, Russia in the final round.

CoderZ Pro League is a virtual robotics tournament that allows teams to program a simulated robot using the Python or Blockly programming language. In the qualifying rounds, teams played their code against an AI opponent. But in the playoffs, teams played their code head to head against another team. View game animation.

RoboGriffins from Academy at Palumbo won first place at the CoderZ Pro League 2020 World Championship.

This year, with School District of Philadelphia students learning from home, there has been no opportunity for robotics teams to build physical robots or compete in their usual competitions. The CoderZ Pro League provided a platform for students to continue learning programming, game strategy, and teamwork, competing from the safety of their own homes.

RoboGriffins co-captain Sharif Salim, a 12th grade student, has been working toward a big win like this since his freshman year. “It brings me great pride that our team all came together to make this possible,” said Salim. “It was a new experience using CoderZ, and though at first I didn’t have a clue how to use it, after a lot of practice and hard work we made it happen!”

Team co-captain Mingjin Lu, an 11th grade student, was the team’s lead programmer. Lu said “CoderZ gave me a huge opportunity to discover my coding abilities in a time when we can’t meet up in person. I encourage every student interested in STEM to participate in CoderZ.”

RoboGriffins co-captain Mingjin Lu, an 11th grade student at Academy at Palumbo High School, is the team’s lead programmer.

Coding projects and engineering design in general require an iterative process of testing and troubleshooting. “For me, CoderZ´s competition had moments of hardship and confusion,” said Zhijun Tian, an 11th grade team member. “But nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction at seeing our code working.” 

The team gathered via Google Meet to watch the final rounds together as they were streamed live from the CoderZ broadcast studio in Israel. “Watching the students cheer when we won the finals was so awesome!” said coach Sean Martin. “I’m exceptionally proud of them and the work they put in. Our students are so excited and engaged with STEM and robotics. I’m sure we’ll see a few of them shaping the future of technology in the next 10 years.”

“In spite of the monumental changes our school faced this year,” said coach Lee Burwasser, “the RoboGriffins proved they were able to stay focused and beat the best. Seeing a group of students learn as much as they have in such a short time was a teacher’s dream.”

The RoboGriffins at the Philadelphia FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament at Central High School, February 9, 2020.

“I want to congratulate the Palumbo robotics champions,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “Whether athletics or the arts or robotics, our young people need an outlet to showcase their passions and skills. This team, by being STEM leaders, are showing Philadelphia students just another venue to reach their potential and make their mark.”

The CoderZ Pro League challenge launched in the fall, and five Philadelphia Robotics Coalition teams advanced to the playoffs. Within our region, the Constitution High School GenBots placed 3rd, Central High School RoboLancers FORTRAN made it to the quarterfinals, and the Parkway Center City Middle College RoboHounds and Central High School RoboLancers COBOL made it to the round of 16. The Palumbo RoboGriffins won the region to advance to (and win) the world championship rounds.

High school teams receive product design crash course from Professor Sarah Rottenberg

Two dozen high school robotics team members gathered virtually on Monday for a crash course in product design led by Professor Sarah Rottenberg, Executive Director of the Integrated Product Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The students, representing the FIRST Robotics Competition teams from Central High School and Science Leadership Academy/Masterman High School in Philadelphia, plus Cheltenham High School, are tackling the FIRST Innovation Challenge which, this year, invites teams to “Identify a problem or opportunity and design a solution to help people (or a community of people) keep, regain, or achieve optimum physical and/or mental health and fitness through active play or movement.”

The crash course explained the product design process, highlighting the differences between a need-based process and a solution-based process that the teams are more used to.

Watch the recorded product design crash course on YouTube.