Hackaday Visits The Clark Magnet High School


Thought Hackaday’s trip to LA was all about hackerspaces, parties, and rummaging through piles of awesome junk? Nope. We’re also tasked with some community outreach that brought us to the Clark Magnet High School in Glendale, CA.

This isn’t your usual high school. Each year, it accepts around 300 new freshmen (grade 9) from the other high schools in the Glendale district. Selection is done through a lottery system, ensuring it’s not just the kids “on the good side of the tracks” or whose parents are active in the PTA that are selected; about 52% of the students at Clark can be classified as at or below the poverty line.

The curriculum? Instead of stopping at the classical comprehensive high school education, the students at Clark Magnet are focused primarily on the STEM fields. They’re also the home base for Team 696, a FIRST robotics team that has done very well in robotics competitions. A few mentors from JPL and IBM help the students out on their projects, and the head of Clark’s engineering program, [David Black], as well as the principal, were once students themselves.

As far as their engineering program goes, they have a very impressive setup; their workshop features a Haas minimll with a 10-tool carousel, a huge CNC wood router, more than one 3D printer, a small woodshop, a CAD classroom – in short, enough tools to make just about anything. Because Clark Magnet is in sunny California, they’ve been able to get a few grants and build a 358kW peak solar array behind the football field. It’s enough to keep the lights on, and the electric bill down, allowing them to hire an additional teacher or two.

In addition to an impressive engineering/shop class, there’s also an audio and video production suite filled with Mac Pros, cameras, mixing boards and 96 Terabytes of storage. It’s not an exaggeration to say this high school is better equipped than some colleges.

Clark also does some other very interesting stuff outside of class; they’ve launched and recovered high altitude balloons, traveled to elementary schools to play with Lego robots, and some students also have impressive home-built projects they bring in to tinker with. We saw a homebrew quadcopter and a very awesome Mecanum wheel robot that we expect to see in the Hackaday tip line shortly.

Despite how awesome the Clark engineering department is, and how capable the students are, they’ve said the FIRST robotics team has been getting a lot of flak from the rest of the maker community. Apparently some people see an amazing engineering program as a waste of resources. From our short time at Clark, we think nothing could be further from the truth. These students are quickly becoming experts at CAD design and CNC operations. They’re competent embedded programmers and well on their way to becoming awesome engineers. Students who don’t want to build a robot or program firmware get involved in project planning, marketing, and all the rest of the business that goes into running a initiative of this size. It’s a truly awesome program, and I have to say I’m a little bit jealous I didn’t graduate from Clark.

Gallery of pics and two videos below: going over the workshops at Clark and a robot project. Our fanboyism for Clark also demands we link to the (very small and very resonable) Kickstarter the FIRST robotics team is using for their 2014 budget.

26 thoughts on “Hackaday Visits The Clark Magnet High School

    1. Depends on what your definition of “common-core” is. Personally, if a student can’t read well, write proficeintly, or speak clearly, then even the best STEM program or FIRST team is patently useless.

      I write from experience. I taught IT at a college that got “fed” from a local high school with and AP program in IT, a junior Cisco academy, and lots of emphasis on computing technology and programming. Those students were really good at IT (a lot better than me, to tell the truth); but lots of them were arrogant, couldn’t put 2 coherent sentences together, and did horribly at job interviews. The situation got so bad that the college’s IT department made a written and oral presentation a requirement for EVERY class that was 3 or more credit hours.

    2. By “Common-core” you mean what is colloquially known as the 3Rs, I can’t agree with your assessment. However if you said we need more of less alongside a core education I could easily agree. Another thing I can’t agree on is an either or mentality.

  1. “Despite how awesome the Clark engineering department is, and how capable the students are, they’ve said the FIRST robotics team has been getting a lot of flak from the rest of the maker community. Apparently some people see an amazing engineering program as a waste of resources.”

    I’m interested to hear the arguments as to why a robotics team in a STEM-oriented HS is considered a waste of resources. Is it in the way it’s run? What it produces? Is it really specific to the robotics team or the whole engineering department?

    Anyway, I’m truly curious.

    1. As one of the mentors on Team 696 I too find it odd about the maker community, as Team 696 has been invited to attend several mini maker events in the local area as well as attending every school science fair in the area.

      1. I’m glad one of the mentor is posting a reply. I have a question, though — does FRL have the same or similar rubrics that FLL (Lego) uses?

        I ask because the FLL team I mentor has a very simple problem — everybody is all excited about the robot building and running, but sadly neglect the teamwork, core values, and project presentation phases of the competition. It is the latter items I and my new co-mentors feel are the real point of the competition, and will be concentrating on next season. How do your team and mentors handle these issues?

        1. That’s a bit more info then I can put up here.I suggest contacting our team thru our web site: team696.org. Mr David Black or myself can reply outside this blog if you like.

  2. I’m really curious as to why there’s contention in the maker community against this. I for one felt lucky to have the program I had for FIRST robotics in high school. It was a conglomeration of a few local high schools that met up at the area’s vocational school. After winning a First Regional in Manchester New Hampshire we were given a lot more access to things at this vocational school including welders, cnc plasma table, big bridgeport mills and lathes. We also had access to the wood equipment whether it be table saws etc. In addition the school gave us money to furnish a big set of tools for the team and of course gave us an area in the huge warehouse style building to call a home. This was back 8 years ago when 3D printing wasn’t even really in the thought process yet, so we didn’t have anything like that. Again I felt lucky to have access to all this let alone what these kids have and I feel like it’s need much more in this country if we truly want interest in science and technology. As a maker, hacker, I feel like even if you don’t pursue a STEM related career directly the skills you learn are invaluable still.

  3. I can explain why people don’t like that school or the students usually, I for one was given the opportunity to go to this school, and I didn’t, I have a friend who goes to this school still, and their problem is, because they have a couple of programs like this, they all feel like they are all geniuses and that no one can figure out what they are doing. My friend came up to me and said “you don’t know anything” and within a minute of him saying that I had already asked simple questions he couldn’t answer about the classes he was taking. Many people in that school actually hate and and are forced to go to it, most leave after their first year and go to Glendale High School, where I used to go. So in reality, they are mostly stuck up people who think they are all smarter then everyone else, I actually recognized most of the people there, They were Robotics and Tech Lab in Roosevelt Middle school (Glendale,CA) (Where I also went). So THAT is why people don’t like them, if they weren’t on camera for this post, they would have been a LOT worse.

    1. Gramdpa Doug should know better than to speak given the limited information, but he is going to do so anyway. You ended your comment with the suggestion those students on camera where doing something wrong, and worse if they others had been on camera on camera. Given the whole of your comment, that’s your prejudice speaking and your prejudice is based on items that are no harm to anyone. You could could suggest the petty stuff that goes on at Clark doesn’t happen at any other High School even one you attended, few are going to believe that. Being absolutely sure you can back it up take a non-confrontational kiss my ass attitude to any peers that tell you that your a inferior to them, but keep in mind instructors are not your peers. In regards to any instructor even if they are wrong or other knowledgeable adults say the are wrong too, it’s not your job to correct them. Suck it up and do what ever it takes to satisfy them so you get a passing grade. There is no law saying you have to use what they teach after you move on from them. When you are about to get upset over anything exam it closely to make sure it’s not the small shit not to sweat, often it is small shit. BTW; Justin Beiber is the small shit not to sweat. Beiber isn’t going to be deported over misdemeanors US and Canadian rednecks are and have been doing. besides Besides Beiber is making money for the right people. Obviously I read the twitter feed you linked to.

  4. My experience with some FIRST folks is that is all they can apply themselves to.
    When I attempted discussing other robotics applications I got blank stares.
    Not typical, but happened often enough for me to notice.
    There are also many folks involved who can apply the stuff they’re learning to other things, and it’s clear that they’ll have a leg up in the technical world.

    1. Isn’t that kind of typical for anyone learning anything? I’m not trolling, I’m being serious. Students start off understanding the concrete problem solving method you’re trying to teach, then they understand the principles at work, then finally they’re able to abstract that and use their new-found knowledge outside of the original problem statements. Depending on just how far along the population in question is, it might well be that they’re still at the concrete details stage. In computer programming classes you can see people go from the “type this” stage to “this is how it works” to “once you can do this, you can do anything that is faintly analogous to this”.

      1. Good points Erik and strider, the kids need to strive to learn not just building the robot, but the greater problem solving skills. It’s something we’ve tried to teach the kids as well. They do get tunnel vision for sure. I’ve found that it’s also after high school that they figure out what they learned while at FIRST. I’ve spoken to several graduates of our program who have commented that the lessons they learned thru FIRST really helped them in College, a lot more then just building a robot.

  5. I’m glad whenever FIRST pops up on HAD. Every new season brings with it hundreds of worthy hacks and failures, which go largely unnoticed.
    True, the competitions get plenty of press. However, the most interesting hacking always seems to happen behind the scenes.
    Mentors, students, fans: keep the tip lines ringing!

  6. Clark Alumni ’08 here. It is so surreal seeing my school here. Getting nostalgic seeing the old cinema classroom again. Also a bit jealous of all these shop tools these kids have access too, which I didn’t have back then. Shit, I didn’t even have such access in college! Anyways, good for them.

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