John Dewey HS Teacher Filippo Dispenza Dispenses Robotics Throughout Brooklyn
If you walk down the hallway of the first floor at John Dewey High School (JDHS) on any given day, night, or weekend, the scent of freshly cut wood with a hint of burning oil will lead you to the Fab Lab. This is where the aroma of auto-mechanics grease greets you. In this room, you will find a diverse student body planning, budgeting, ordering, designing, engineering, and testing a robot built for competition. This community or family of students under the leadership and expertise of their teacher Filippo Dispenza, as well as mentor engineers Mike Vilarelle and Nelly Reyes, are challenged to improve their robot by going through engineering steps again and again. Principal Connie Hamilton supports the program and has helped get state-of-the-art technology.
Fil and JDHS created a four-year robotics sequence for its STEM academy. Year one is Introductory Robotics, which covers programming Lego Mindstorms. The following year, students take Advanced Robotics where students create a robot for competition in the First Robotics competition. JDHS has four First Tech Challenge (FTC) teams. These robots have to do a variety of tasks, and it is very challenging to engineer a functional robot to complete all the required tasks. In year three, students take engineering courses and are challenged to complete demanding projects, such as designing a shoe with an interchangeable heel that can be taken off to turn into a flat shoe. Senior year students take AP Physics, and most apply to engineering programs at colleges in New York. Fil and JDHS have been hosting two-day FTC Robotics Qualifiers for the last five years. Over the last three years, he has inspired teacher Bruce Gamsey to host a FLL Qualifier at Marine Park JHS.
Fil took over the robotics team 10 years ago, brought in Mike, Nelly and Team 333, and converted a storage room into a well-equipped Fab Lab. The Lab has a drill press, a variety of three-dimensional printers, computer numeric control (which carves, cuts, and mills wood and aluminum), and computers with AutoCAD and a Tormach CNC which precision carves and cuts blocks of aluminum. The shop has a wide variety of power and hand tools, nuts, bolts, wood, metal, shelving, tables, and robots. The team spends countless hours in the shop planning and building their robot. Students learn wiring, soldering, troubleshooting, electricity, pneumatics, programming, engineering, AutoCAD, measuring, SketchUp, welding, and many other real-world technology skills. As part of the One Engineering Pipeline, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams allocated $300,000 to JDHS to purchase 3D CAD Laptops, a CNC Tormach Machine, and a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, that serves as an underwater robot, for Dewey’s Megalodons.
As a Robotics Leader, Fil has a First Lego League (FLL) team at the NY Public Library and several teams at JDHS. He leads Four FTC teams, a First Robotics Challenge (FRC), and two Sea Perch underwater robotics teams. The FTC teams have won numerous awards and banners over the years. The FRC Team 333 last year was fourth in the world at the International First Robotics Finals in Detroit, Michigan. Team 333 has won the Tech Valley event and was a runner up in the NYC Finals. The team is very proud of its the engineering award because JDHS is a non-tech school. Fil has collaborated in robotics with many schools such as William H. Grady HS, Stuyvesant HS, and Rachel Carson HS. He coached and helped start teams at Edward R. Murrow, William H. Maxwell, IS 228, IS 278, IS 281, James Madison HS, New Utrecht HS, and more. NYC Council Education Chairman, Mark Treyger, gave Fil a City Council Citation for Robotics Education. For Sea Perch Underwater Robotics, Fil collaborates with many of the schools mentioned above and his teams have reached the NY State Regional Finals four years in a row.
The Megalodons and Fil are very well known in the local Coney Island community, Brooklyn, and in NYC. Organizations like the New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) has given Team 333 over ten awards for participation in coastal cleanups and for setting up robotics displays at the events. The team is regularly asked to bring their robot to the Brooklyn Public Library, NYC Parks, the Brooklyn Borough Presidents Office, or even throw a pitch at Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium. At a fundraiser gala last year, where President Obama was the featured speaker, the team represented First Robotics; over $250,000 was raised to help teams afford the costs of competing. With help from the Space Angels, Fil and his students have raised over $30,000 this season in order to compete citywide, statewide, and nationally. #
Lane Rosen is NYSMEA President & Science Teacher at John Dewey High School.