Robotics The Tech
Classroom Activities

The Tech Museum of Innovation and Foothill High School are collaborating to bring successful robotics programs to teachers and students. Jeneva Westendorf, a robotics teacher at Foothill, writes about the the impact their program has had on the lives of Foothill students and their communities.

Robotics at Foothill High School

Our Vision
We envision East Side students learning and working with science and technology, replacing apathy and disappointment with enthusiasm, teamwork, and success.

Our Mission
To create a Foothill-driven robotics effort to include district and regional courses, symposia, and competitions for students, teachers, and industry mentors.


Foothill High School Robotics

 "If someone would have told me in December of 1997 that we would be working in the field of autonomous robots, I would have told them they were out of their minds."
  - Jeneva Westendorf

If someone would have told me in December of 1997 that we would be working in the field of autonomous robots, I would have told them they were out of their minds. Yet, here we are almost 3 years later with 5 regional competitions, 2 national competitions (our students placed 197th in 1999 and 1st in 2000 in the national FIRST robotics competition!), 3 sections of a full-year robotics course (one is an adult education course with 35 students enrolled), a summer school Robotics Institute, an extended mentoring relationship with NASA/Ames Research and other business mentors. Several of our students have jobs with NASA; students have goals and dreams they never thought possible. Our school and district of 11 (soon to be 12) high schools in the East Side Union High School District, now has an exciting future in science and technology.

The students of Foothill High School come to us having been unsuccessful in a traditional high school setting and with challenges related to their neighborhood and family lives. Foothill is a continuation high school that receives Santa Clara County support services for students who have experienced physical, emotional and substance abuse, as well as having juvenile justice issues. Therefore, the positive impact that robotics has had has been very apparent in our setting.

Robotics at Foothill High School

"Robotics is a tool for learning through experience and discovery."
  - Jeneva Westendorf

Robotics sets the stage for students to experience continuous success. The compact size of the Legos motivates the student to give their creativity a try! The programming piece allows students to tap talents in logic and math that they were unable to recognize in any other way.

Robotics is also a great introduction to the uses of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and the science of physics. It gives practical application to these disciplines so that they have more meaning and use for the students, therefore motivating them to want to learn these subjects, rather than learning them in isolation. This is why we love robotics!

Robotics is a tool for learning through experience and discovery. Students get to "own" their learning and the teacher becomes the facilitator of their learning. The robotics class itself is set up to allow students to feel comfortable with the new and sometimes very complicated concepts that robotics brings with it. To build an autonomous robot, students must learn the basic concepts of mechanics, engineering, and computer programming using "Interactive C." They must also learn the skills of effective communication, teamwork and problem solving. They get to learn by making mistakes: in fact mistakes are essential to their learning. We are now writing and modifying curriculum to enhance the use of our Conceptual Physics text. October 26, 1999 we hosted a Symposium on Robotics and invited other teachers in our district as well as representatives from San Jose State and Santa Clara University, NASA, and several private businesses. We are very interested in sharing our program with other schools and teachers because of the wonderful impact it has had on our students!

If you would like to know more about the robotics programs at Foothill High School, please contact me.

Jeneva Westendorf
Teacher, Foothill High School
Tel: (510) 427-6119 or (408) 928-9225

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