CHS’s Mr. T Is Retiring (but Robotics Endures)

Columbia High’s robotics program held a banquet last night to celebrate its participants and their adviser, Allan Tumolillo, a physics teacher who will retire next month. Two themes came through in the tributes from the students who spoke: that care that doesn’t call attention to itself, combined with a crusty sense of humor, goes a long way with teens, and that they appreciate the chance to make mistakes and figure them out on their own.

An alumnus explained that when he and some classmates wanted to start a program in 2010-11 and were told they needed an adviser, Mr. T agreed when other teachers declined, even though his time was already stretched by other commitments. The robotics program became a hub of activity for STEM-interested students, where they were encouraged to take their own initiative to build, dismantle, rebuild (and repeat) robots for competitions. Does a freshman team need a coder? Then a freshman will teach him- or herself to code. Does a robot refuse to move on competition day? Then stubborn adolescents will get a lesson in adaptation and dealing with frustration. Does something actually go right? Then those same adolescents will learn what it’s like to accomplish a goal together. Whatever a given year brings, one constant is a good amount of fun.

At the robotics tournaments, you see advisers for other teams take control of repairs and other tasks in the “pit area.” CHS students notice this. They’d rather do it their way, even if it puts them at a disadvantage. Hooray for them.

If any of this sounds appealing to you or your child, I recommend giving it a try. The torch is being passed to a successor to Mr. T, so the robotics program isn’t going anywhere. For once, that’s just the way we want it.

I can't imagine a robotics program at CHS without Allan at the helm.  I wish him all the best in his retirement.  

Allan is one of those who make M-SO a great community.

Happy retirement.

He is one of my inspirations. I am switching careers to become a school teacher.

Before that, Allan was the Troop Leader for Troop 60 in Maplewood. My sons were advised and guided by his warm wisdom. Best of luck in your retirement Allan!

He is an awesome human being. Congratulations and thank you.

Thank you all for your kind words! I greatly appreciate the support!

It does seem inevitable that this generation will confront robots of vastly many types and functions and applications, from the deadly military drones and robots (consider the book "An Army of None" where military analysts look at the relentless push of robots and drones and ships without crews, with basic orders carrying out missions) to machine learning and AI (see Paul Daugherty's book about the business implications of thee technologies), autonomous vehicles (sooner or later they will be here).

It strikes me that if we had the resources in this District to completely revamp the science/math/tech curriculum, would it still look like what we have now? I expect not. It would inevitably move in at least four directions profoundly different from what we have now. 

First, the world of biology and medicine is moving rapidly towards genetics, synthetic biology, and related lab techniques. These disciplines will only grow, be more helpful and dangerous simultaneously, and will dominate this generation's lives -- curing diseases, preventing certain genetic defects, and so on. 

Second, the world of comp sci/machine learning is huge and these disciplines are worthwhile for kids to get insights into. We have a junior at CHS, for example, in the Science Research sequence who has managed to have computers try to create new Shakespeare sonnets. Kids acted them out at the Maker Madness last April. These fields merge with cyber security which is a huge issue now and will always be with us.

Third, making things like robots, drones, bridges, towers -- things that we have now in the robotics club and the excellent work pushed forward by Mr. Brauner in the tech department here at CHS. It strikes me that many kids at CHS would find a more interesting educational atmosphere if they can make things, build things, perhaps program these machines (eg, like a robot) rather than learning stuff that really might just be in the curriculum because it was 50 years ago and 50 years before that.

Fourth, a serious focus on climate change and global warming. The more kids do now, the more they will be able to understand the issues and work to try an avert a disaster!

I do like to think that the Science research sequence we set up -- Mr.  Levin (then Science Supervisor), Dr. Stornetta (then math teacher and co-author of one of the first academic papers on Block Chain (which is the underlying system that governs BitCoin), Ms. Aaron (then assistant principal at CHS) and  myself -- is a partial step in that direction that direction. On Monday, June 3, a contingent of juniors will travel to the Waksman Institute at Rutgers to discuss their work in the microbiology program. We also have the robotics club, the flight club and the CyberPatriots club which is a cyber security club.

My view is that future administrators, supervisors and Board members might want to think carefully and clearly about the world these kids will grow up in. When they are middle-aged, the world will NOT be like it is now. It seems to take many years to effect change in curriculum and program. I did what I could and maybe some of the younger people can push the program forward.

I could go on, but my blather here is enough!

But thanks again to all who have helped the program here at CHS!

This appeared today in the Village Green:

In the photo, note the progression in robots at the table, from left to right, all the way to the humanoid. Very impressive!

The retirement party was a wonderful event.  Mr. T has been instrumental in reaching out the special needs kids at CHS and getting them involved in the Robotics Club.  I hope this continues and perhaps one day CHS will have a special needs Robotic Team!

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