District News

Tech tinkering to send Lodi students to Google robotics competition

Posted: Friday, January 20, 2017 12:08 am

Tech tinkering to send Lodi students to Google robotics competition By Christina Cornejo/NEWS-SENTINEL STAFF WRITER Lodi News-Sentinel

Tyler Smeenk, an eighth-grade student, held what appeared to be a gaming controller while moving a robot across a foam mat with his thumbs. He and other members of the Lodi Middle School Robotics Club were prepping their new robots for competition on Thursday afternoon.

The robot was equipped with a large wide fork attachment to a moveable arm which he used to pick up a foam star-shaped piece.

“It’s based on a forklift,” said Nicolaus Hilleary, an eighth grader who was also working on the robot.

He tried to flip the fork up to send the star up and over the height of 25 feet, but it got stuck in the bend of the robot’s arm for the first few runs. His group worked to rearrange parts and adjust a gear chain before trying again.

The robotics program headed by teacher Steve Box at Lodi Middle School is still in its infancy. Although students are already eager and very engaged in using tools and programming skills in the classroom, the competitive team has had a slow start due to the need to gather funding. GOT Kids Foundation, the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation and several local businesses and organizations have lent their support to Lodi Middle’s program.

Donations were especially important as the Vex Robotics sets needed to get started cost between $1,000 and $1,200.

Students received the first three VEX Robotics sets in December of last year and have been working diligently to put together functioning robots for a big competition this coming Saturday.

Their destination is the Google campus in Mountain View to compete in the Google VEX Starstruck tournament against schools from all over Northern California. The goal is to build a robot that can toss cubes and stars over a fence at a 20 foot height and 29 foot height to score points for their team and also robots that can block the opponent from tossing items over from the other side of the fence. Rounds are timed and the ones who toss the most items over the fence by the end win.

“It’s like sports for the nerds,” Hilleary said.

Given the short amount of time they’ve spent with the robots, the team is not expecting a big win right away, but instead are hoping to gain experience to bring back. With that the team can be better prepared for future competitions.

In addition to putting their robot building and programming skills to the test, students will also get to tour the Google campus to see what it’s like inside the giant technology company.

Students spent Thursday testing the controls of a fully-constructed robot, which was hand-programmed by a seventh-grade student in the class. They had to record logs of everything they changed or did during the preparation for the competition in an engineering notebook.

“One team went to nationals just because they had a great engineering notebook,” Hilleary said.

In another group, three seventh-grade girls were working on tightening bolts and nuts to attach a metal panel to a set of two robotic arms.

The panels were meant to block enemy fire of stars and cubes over the fence.

“We had some minor mistakes. When the arm comes up, it’s too flimsy and is not able to block,” said Madison Gallard, a seventh grader.

Classmates came over to offer suggestions as they tinkered such as, “can you add another motor here” and “what if you extend this part?” Despite being sectioned off into groups, there was a sense of working together ever present in the room.

The troubleshooting and creativity that students apply to figure out how to make their robots work are invaluable skills for them to learn, according to Box.

Until they experience failure and have to solve those problems, they won’t know how they’re doing, he said.

They build, test and then evaluate if the robot is doing what they need it to do.

“The kids have learned a lot. It’s a very student-driven process,” Box said. “When you own the learning process you get more out of it.”

Box is also working on creating an engineering course at Tokay High School so students who move up from Lodi Middle School can continue to build on what they’ve learned in his robotics class and in the after school competitive team. Outside of robotics, Box also teaches the Manufacturing Principles class at Lincoln Technical Academy and coaches basketball.

He is glad to be able to offer this kind of program for students and get them engaged in school in their middle school years.

“The kids have learned a lot. It’s a very student-driven process,” Box said. “When you own the learning process you get more out of it.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodi news.com.

Lodi Middle Robotics team members Justin Weber, 14, and Nicoulas Hilleary, 14, adjust the robotics as they test their competition robot Thurs, Jan. 19, 2017. The robotics team will be traveling to the Google campus in Mountain View Saturday for its first competition.

District News


Recipients at a glance

The Promise of Innovation awardees are:

Amanda Boyer: $524

Empire Union School District, Sipherd Elementary, Music Curriculum

Marianne Chang: $2,500

Lodi Unified, Lockeford Elementary, 3-D Printing in the Visual Arts Classroom

Samantha Coughran: $2,500

Fairfield Suisun Unified, Grange Middle School, Film Production

Elizabeth Lowy: $2,500

Linden Unified, Waverly Elementary, Waverly Robotics Lab

Phillip Merlo: $2,500

Stockton Unified, Franklin High, Franklin High School Material Cultures Library

Kristina Pinto: $2,500

Livermore Valley Joint Unified, Rancho Las Positas Elementary, Technology in the Classroom

Sarah Sanchez: $700

Turlock Unified, Cunningham Elementary, Flexible Seating

Linda Sumrall: $2,500

Manteca Unified, Manteca High, Creative Technology Resources

Tracey Vitale: $1,275

Galt Joint Union School District, Lake Canyon Elementary, Large Playground Games

William Xenos: $2,500

Stockton Unified, Merlo IET, Robotics in the English Classroom

Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 11:34 pm

Teachers College of San Joaquin awards grants to 10 teachers Special to the News-Sentinel Lodi News-Sentinel

Ten local teachers were awarded up to $2,500 each through the Promise of Innovation grant program offered by the Teachers College of San Joaquin. The money is to help offset the cost of materials needed to implement new and innovative ideas in their classrooms.

The teachers, who are current TCSJ students, received the mini-grants at an awards ceremony on Jan. 27.

“We are excited about offering this opportunity to our students. The Promise of Innovation Grant allows us to recognize teachers and the amazing things happening with kids in our region,” TCSJ President Dr. Diane Carnahan said.

Few opportunities are available for teachers to be honored for their commitment to providing quality learning experiences for students. This award celebrates teachers for being innovative and meeting the needs of students in inventive ways.

Some of last year’s Promise of Innovation awardees started Electronic Notebooks with their students, an affordable way to introduce hands-on learning that teaches the concepts of circuitry, programming and robotics. Another awardee used an ecoSTEM Energy Kit which allowed students to use wind, water, and solar energy to build a working lamp that does not require a plug to illuminate.

Several of the mini-grants are being funded by a $10,000 grant awarded to TCSJ by the Joseph & Vera Long Foundation and a $2,500 grant awarded from the Antone E. & Marie F. Raymus Foundation.

TCSJ has over 1,000 students enrolled in their Teaching Credential, Administrative Services Credential, and M.Ed. program. All candidates who were employed for the 2016-17 school year in the PreK- through 12th-grade setting were eligible to apply for the award.

Awardees will begin implementing projects with their students in the spring and fall of 2017.

For more information about the Promise of Innovation award, contact TCSJ College and Community Liaison Katie Turner at 209-468-9164.



Creekside Elementary School Vice Principal Angel Mendoza made good on a bet he made with students that if the school body read 30 million words during the school year that they could turn him into an ice cream sunday. And that’s what they did during a school assembly Thursday.




The third-place team, Parklane Gold, from left: Nathaniel Barcancel, Lanna Lvangvala, Zuriel Pimental, Logan McLaughlin, and Kean Quiddaoen. [BARBARA TRANSON/SUBMITTED PHOTO] 


Above: The first place team from Larson Elementary, pictured clockwise from top left: Matthew Gobel, Lucas Nathan, Grace Thiara, Rebecca Peters, Max Loiacono, and Emma Schackelford. [BARBARA TRANSON/SUBMITTED PHOTO] 

Below: The second-place team from Manlio Silva Purple, from left: Leah Johnson, Ethan Baquiran (alternate), Kyrsten Achas, Brandon Hendry, Briana Vallejos, Mahek Patel, Tara Silva (teacher/coach). [BARBARA TRANSON/SUBMITTED PHOTO] 


Posted May 19, 2017 at 3:51 PM Updated May 19, 2017 at 3:51 PM

As many people were spending April 15 pondering their tax forms, 90 students representing 12 schools from the Lodi Unified School District were using their brain power in the seventh annual LUSD Math Tournament. “Mathletes” from Beckman, Borchardt, Davis, Joe Serna, Ellerth Larson, Lawrence, Manlio Silva, Oakwood, Parklane, Reese, Vinewood, and Washington schools competed in both individual and team events tackling Math Olympiad problems. When all the brain sweating was complete, these teams came out on top:

  • First Place: Ellerth Larson
  • Second Place: Manlio Silva Purple
  • Third Place: Parklane Gold
  • Fourth Place: Vinewood Red
  • Fifth Place: Manlio Silva Silver
  • Sixth Place: Vinewood White
  • Top Individual Honors went to:
  • First place: Leah Johnson
  • Second place: Grace Thiara
  • Third place: Nathaniel Barcancel

— Submitted by Barbara Transon


By Nicholas Filipas
Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — In a school cafeteria among hundreds of her peers, Mahila Hu raised her hand when the room was asked if anyone had been bullied online.

Instead of shying away into the crowd, the Christa McAuliffe Middle School seventh-grader proudly stood up, delivering a quick but strong statement that online bullying won’t ever tear her down.

“Especially (from) a lot of you in this room right now, but I just forget about them,” the 13-year-old said to cheers and applause. “They don’t matter to me.”

McAuliffe Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders learned Thursday afternoon about how to responsibly use social media and the potential dangers that come with using them.

The two separate assemblies were put on by the Social Media Application Responsibility Training (SMART) team, a nonprofit organization created by Janelle Bownes and Shelly Hollis, both Bear Creek High School alums.

The mission: Simply to connect with young kids with access to smartphones and various social media accounts to show them the power they have and the responsibility that comes with it. Many of that age don’t understand that they can be expelled, arrested, and fired from jobs down the line because of what they post online, according to the organization.

With the ever-evolving landscape of technology, smartphones and social media applications are stronger and more widespread. A May 17 article on zmescience.com says, today’s smartphones are “millions of times” more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computers in 1969 — the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

The clock of the iPhone 6 model, for example, is 32,600 times faster than the computers during the Apollo space mission, the article states. Phones now can perform instructions 120 million times faster.

So what kids are posting today, everything from selfies, videos, articles, location tags and more, can be seen by just about everyone, Hollis said.

“A lot of things they’re posting today is affecting their decisions in the future,” he said adding college admission officers and employers are more actively looking at social media profiles. “It’s their digital footprint; this is something that’s following them for years ... at this age, they’re very impressionable and they don’t really understand the dynamics of consequences until it affects them.”

When Hollis and Bownes graduated from Bear Creek High nearly two decades ago, gossiping and social issues would stay on the school ground and not follow them home. With sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, social issues continue at all hours of the day.

When they were students “the issues stopped as soon as the school bell rang; now it doesn’t stop,” Bownes said. “It makes it 24/7.”

McAuliffe Middle School principal Pierre Kirby estimated that 50 percent of disciplinary cases he and his administration deal with on a regular basis stem from something that started online away from campus and spilled over into the classroom. He appreciated SMART for taking the time to connect with his students.

“We have a lot of good kids here, and what happens is they go on breaks, they start tweeting stuff from the weekend, and come Monday we find out about it,” Kirby said. “We have to work with it and find solutions — it’s a pretty big issue. (The people from SMART) are a lot more relevant to our students than I could ever hope to be.”

Using several video news reels, students learned about teens who committed suicide because of bullying. Others made school threats or were forced into sex trafficking. And one single Tweet affected a high school football player’s scholarship hopes.

Stockton Unified School District Police Department Sgt. Rob Young is thankful he didn’t grow up with social media, calling himself a “trickster” as a kid who was “attracted to shenanigans.”

“I was that kid that would’ve said something wrong on social media to get that attention and probably would’ve gotten myself in a lot of trouble,” said Young, who drove home the point that the purpose of the assembly was to make sure students are smarter in what they post if they want to be successful later in life.

“If you cannot tag your mom, dad or grandmother in that post you probably shouldn’t be putting it out there.”

— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas

Christa McAuliffe Middle School seventh graders raise their hands when asked who uses certain programs on social media during an assembly with the Social Media Application Responsibility Training (SMART) team on Thursday. [CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD] 


By Almendra Carpizo
Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — A group of students at Podesta Ranch Elementary and their classmates recently collected hundreds of books and toys to benefit children in San Joaquin County.

Podesta Ranch’s Student Council, which is made up of students in third through sixth grade, each year plans a community outreach program. In the past, the students have raised funds for cancer associations, but this time the kid-centric effort will benefit children at San Joaquin General Hospital and Mary Graham Children’s Shelter, as well as dozens of area kids.

Erin Di Piero, a third-grade teacher and Student Council adviser, said the idea to collect books and toys for children at hospitals came from her sister-in-law, who is a doctor in a pediatric unit in Fresno and expressed the need for donations. The Podesta Ranch students embraced the idea knowing that they would be donating items to help local children, she said.

The entire school rallied behind the effort. And by the end of the Student Council’s 2½-week drive, approximately 500 books and about 50 toys were collected.

On April 25, some of the students, accompanied by their parents, were able to deliver about 20 boxes full of books and toys collected to San Joaquin General Hospital.

They were so elated to drop off the boxes, said Dr. Mamta Jain, chief of pediatrics at San Joaquin General. It was a very exciting day.

“I told them it was very nice of them to think about other kids and have that sense of giving and generosity,” Jain said. “It’s nice to install that idea of giving and kindness from the time when they are little.”

Student Council President Samantha Hernandez donated a box full of her own books and plush toys.

The sixth-grader said she contributed her own items because she wanted to give to children who may need the books and toys more than she does. They are having “a rough time in their lives and we want to make them feel better,” she added.

Hernandez and her fellow Student Council mate, Jaesa Del Patro, both said they were thrilled to see how well the school responded to the drive and it made them happy and excited to have helped make the donation possible.

“When they feel better they make me feel better,” said Del Patro, a fifth-grader at Podesta Ranch.

Jain, who is also the medical director for Mary Graham, said the toys donated will go to kids staying at the hospital’s pediatric floor and Mary Graham Children’s Shelter. The children at Mary Graham have nothing of their own when they arrive and these toys can become a transitional object for them and help give them a sense of security. The books will go out to county clinics, where families will be able to take them for free in an effort to promote early literacy. There is no secure funding for these services, so having the children donate the toys and books is great, Jain said.

The students felt a sense of pride to have been able to contribute, said Di Piero, adding that she hopes that sense of giving continues and “they remember that as they grow older.”

— Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or acarpizo@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.

A group of students from Podesta Ranch Elementary School drops off approximately 500 books and 50 toys to San Joaquin General Hospital on April 25. 


Posted: Monday, February 27, 2017 11:27 pm

Tokay Science Bowl team wins regionals, headed to nationals By Christina Cornejo/News-Sentinel Staff Writer Lodi News-Sentinel

Tokay High School’s Science Bowl team took home a win this weekend after hosting the regional tournament at their home school for the first time.

“It was a little bit stressful but a fun experience,” said Rubie Dhillon, a Tokay High Student on the team who is looking forward to competing on a grander stage.

Students will be heading to nationals in Washington, D.C. this spring, where they will compete against the top high school teams in the country with more than 14,000 students.

Science Bowl is an academic competition where students have just seconds to answer complicated math and science questions before their competitors. Much like a quiz show, students hit buzzers to determine which student and team gets to answer the question. Teams with the most points after several rounds of play move up into a double elimination stage where teams that lose twice are eliminated from the competition.

Each student prepares for a wide variety of topics by specializing in certain areas. Junior student Matthew Hashimoto was ready to answer biology questions and some on energy and physics.

During Saturday’s tournament, Tokay High School’s team faced stiff competition from several Central Valley schools. They reached the double elimination round and were neck-and-neck with Clovis North High School who won the regional competition last year, according to Tokay High School coach and retired teacher Susan Heberle.

“It was very exciting. It came down to the wire,” said Owen Canestrino, a freshman student on the team.

This year Tokay High students managed to clinch victory by one question on a technicality. On an astronomy question about pulsars, Clovis students’ answer was too specific and Tokay students were able to give the correct general answer the judges were looking for. Saturday’s victory marks the team’s ninth win in Heberle’s 12 years of coaching the team.

Jack Gobel, a junior student and team captain was glad to see efforts pay off since he had been working on Science Bowl since eighth grade.

“I’m proud of my team and I’m looking forward to competing in nationals. I think this will really be building us up for next year’s regionals,” Gobel said.

It took countless hours of study and preparation to get to this competition, Heberle said. Her daughter, Anne, a former competitor, returned after graduating medical school to help students learn topics relating to diseases and anatomy, she said. Parents and students also put in many hours going to practices and working from home.

“I can’t say enough how proud I am of these students. They put in a tremendous amount of time and effort into accomplishing this. People always say, ‘Oh, they’re so smart.’ It’s not just that they’re smart but they also put the time and effort into it,” Heberle said.

Students unanimously attributed much of their win to Heberle for guiding them through their studies.

The team’s next stop will be nationals in Washington, D.C. from April 27 to May 1.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodi news.com.


BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Tokay High team members Rubie Dhillon, 15, Jasmin Gill, 15, Jack Gobel, 16, coach Susan Heberle, Matt Hashimoto, 16, Owen Canestrino, 15, and Shreyas Patel, 15, receive the trophy after winning the Central Valley Regional Science Bowl at Tokay High in Lodi Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017


Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017 11:09 pm

NorCal Science Fest returns to Tokay High By Christina Cornejo/News-Sentinel Staff Writer Lodi News-Sentinel

If you love science, building things and new technological gadgets, Tokay High School will open its doors to visitors of all ages this Saturday who are curious and interested in experiencing these wonders at the second annual NorCal Science and Technology Festival.

Students, teachers and community members will be sharing many hands-on activities and presentations featuring local businesses and organizations in fields of science as well as the many science and technology projects from Lodi Unified School District’s campuses.

The day of celebrating science begins at 10 a.m. and runs through 3 p.m.

Senior Tokay High School student Kristen Fukunaga and teacher Sandra Starr have been working together in planning this event with a group of students in Tokay’s STEAM Team, many of whom were involved in making the first year’s event happen in 2016.

The team of about 25 to 30 students meets two days a week after school and has been working on developing presentations they can share at this festival. Former students have stayed involved in the festival, bringing their own resources to the table, such as connection with local universities, according to Starr.

“My sister got me involved last year, I was one of the volunteers. I agreed because it was such a great experience,” Kristen Fukunaga said.

Not only will there be 3D printing on display but guests will be able to test out special pens that can be used to draw 3D objects with plastic filament.

“It’s an integration of science and art,” Fukunaga said. What will be different this year from the first year, which was headed by her sister Julie Fukunaga, is more of this focus on highlighting the artistic side of the sciences.

Also new this year will be a group called Tapigami from the Maker Faire-Bay Area, which uses masking tape to make interesting creations.

Magnitude.io, which has been working with Lodi Unified schools to send can-sized satellites — CanSats — up to the edges of our atmosphere and back, will be showing off their rockets and helping visitors to build their own.

The Exobiology Lab will present information about the science experiment Lodi schools are working on with the International Space Station to compare how plants grow in the space station with those on land.

For all the teachers in the community, there will be a resource table to help connect teachers with one another to share ideas of how they can bring in projects like those seen at the festival and others into their classrooms and seek funding.

“It’s my personal goal to help streamline purchases when needed and take the hurdles out of the equation,” Starr said.

Even community organizations and businesses such as the World of Wonders Science Museum, the NorCal Ambulance Company, local medical centers and the San Joaquin County Historical Museum will be bringing presentations and interactive activities for the public.

Food trucks will also be available, offering Korean food and Costa’s Finest Kettle Corn among other options.

The event was funded through a Bezos Scholar grant as well was money that carried over from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s contribution last year and other community sponsors.

If you plan to head to the festival, first make your way to the school gym where maps and more information will be available about presentation times and activities throughout the day. For more information about the schedule for the day visit www.norcalsciencefestival.org.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.