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Michael Bastoni

Plymouth North High School
Plymouth, Massachusetts
BattleBots IQ

What subjects and ages do you teach?

My classes have these names: Communication, Engineering Design, Pre-Engineering, and BattleBots Engineering and Design.  My classroom resources are available to students of all ages.  These classes are electives and open to students who manage to schedule them in, even students not from the school I teach in.  In special instances we have allowed passionate students from other schools to participate in the after school component of our program.  This has always worked out well.

My students and I have run summer science and engineering camps for junior high students as well as night classes for engineers and techies who desire to learn graphic design applications.  We serve anyone who is willing to take advantage of the resources in room 222 and 223.

You can get some insight into who we are by visiting our class website:

What were your favorite subjects when you were in school?

I really didn't have any.  I attended a private, parochial school where we studied religion, humanities and math.  This is not in itself a bad thing, but I never really found subjects studied in the confinement of a school classroom, particularly engaging.

I liked to take stuff apart and put it back together they way I thought it should be.  (I guess I never stopped doing that.)  The school I attended did not offer anything remotely like that.  School was, for me, a holding tank, something I had to put up with until I could exercise my options.  To mark time, I built cars and motorcycles, graduated high school, went to college and majored in English Literature (in phase one of Michael goes to college).

I quit college, got in an old school bus my high school friend and I had purchased a few years earlier and headed off to California to meet Ken Kesey, author of severval significant American novels including the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  The characters and storyline of this novel resonated with my spirit and planted a seed deep in my soul.  A seed that would, over the next few decades, mature into a passion and a lifelong career of empowering people.

Eventually I went back to school and graduated with an MS in Industrial Education.

What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?

Ironically it was Math and Science ... subjects I came to love and appreciate late in life.  Although my teachers tried, they were not able to make Math or Science real for me.  Admittedly a problem with me, not my teachers.  They simply did not know how to make math and science any more real than a book, a video and a quiz.  This is a problem with mass market education.  The process of learning cannot be effectively reduced to prescribed minutes of seat time within a rigid prescription of discreet subjects taught in serial fashion.  Learning is an iterative process of experiment and analysis.  Learning is a dynamic process of making connections between knowledge and ideas ... a process that does not necessarily respect the regimentation of 50-minute bell schedules.

Math and science were not real tools for my teachers either.  It was their job to impart what they could know to their students.  They rarely if ever imparted passion and excitement.  They did not have the tools, or at least the inclination to develop them.

Math and science were not real for my teachers, so how could they make it real for their students?  Math and Science were problems in the back of the book.  There were always specific methodologies to follow, and always there was one correct answer.  That's simply not very attractive to creative people.

Do you like math and science now?  What changed?

It took me years to appreciate that math and fundamental science were creative tools ... they were a means to an end.  They were "Tools" in the "Cognitive Toolbox".  I came to realize that knowledge of how the physical world operated, coupled with the ability to measure, describe and analyze the things I paid attention to, often lead to deep and creative insights and, more exciting, to a variety of possible and workable answers.

It was so liberating to realize that "Engineered" solutions could be limitless in their variety.  There was ALWAYS more than one right way to solve a problem or to take advantage of an opportunity.  This was something I innately understood as a kid, but no one I knew, ever "Let the secret out".

How is your teaching different from the way that you were taught?

What I want most for my students, is to create a rich intellectual environment, with lots of "Stuff" to engage them in the process of creating their own knowledge, of finding their own answers and then sharing what they learn through active engagement in the process of learning and doing.  Robotics is a way to accomplish this and the BattleBots IQ program is particularly suited to our school's needs and resources.

Which subjects helped you most towards your present career and life goals?

Subjects never helped me much, they were never real enough to fully engage my attention or fire my passions.  Subjects happened (for better or worse) in 50-minute Chunks ... and nothing in life ever happens that way.

However, close associations with motivated and creative people and the creation of a database of experiences, played a big part in my personal development.

What experiences helped you towards your present career and life goals?

Two experiences stand out: Being 17 years old and buying an old school bus with my then and still dear friends, fixing it up and taking it across country.  This was my first taste of empowerment ... one that stayed and grew with me.  The other core experience was teaching school in the ghettos of the Caribbean for 8 years, and immersing myself in an alien culture, a culture I came to love and respect.  I believe that we develop in stages but there are crucial experiences dealing with both empowerment and humility that shape our personality and our abilities to function on higher levels.

Classroom "Subjects" rarely reached into my soul and fired my passions, but people and experiences always did.

What do you mean when you say you are a "Robot Revolutionary" and why is that your mission in life?

Revolutionaries are agents of social and political change.  I want to be an agent of change in the educational process.  I want to be on one of the (many) teams of educators working to make the process of learning and the thing we call "School" more real, more engaging and more the responsibility of the learner rather than the teacher.  I think our concept of teacher is a bit dated.  Teachers are at their best when they model learning for their students ... not when they stand in front of the class ripping off answers they have read a thousand times.

Kids live in the world of "I don't know".  They were born into it.  Think about this for a minute.  Ever remark at how naturally a child masters computer applications?  Ever wonder why?  It's because kids are very comfortable with not knowing ... they understand that knowing comes with time and patience.  After all, it was only a few years ago they mastered the code of language.  Kids are OK with not knowing.

What about grownups?

Many grownups do not handle "not knowing", very well ... regardless of what they might think or say to the contrary.  This explains that gut wrenching feeling they get when their computer crashes or they have to learn a new application, or how to configure their email client.  Get it?

I have heard many teachers say, "I'd like to do robotics but I don't know how."  They don't realize what wonderful opportunities exist on the road from "I don't know" to "Hey, this is starting to become real and understandable".

What do you think is the best way for kids to learn?

What is necessary for kids is to be actively in the presence of competent adult learners who will model "Not Knowing" in a safe and mature fashion.  Magical things happen when teachers and students set out on a journey neither of them "Knows about".  It's like the bus trip we took across country ... we call this experience and adventure.  Adventures are always the conduit for discovery (knowing the answers in the back of the book is decidedly not discovery).

It is people and experiences that shape our lives.

When teachers and students head down the road of discovery, they began a journey in which they work as a team to construct the knowledge they need to be successful in a given endeavor.  For my students and myself, at this moment in our journey of discovery, it's designing and building a BattleBot Team and of course a BattleBot.  It is a journey of empowerment and humility.  Both are necessary for self-actualization.

Do you have any advice or thoughts that you would like to share with students around the world?

I want students everywhere to know that the power to change their lives, to change the world they live in, lies within them.  Most great political, social, and scientific change came through the efforts of passionate and empowered young people.

I would want them to listen to their souls, because kids know instinctively what is right and what is wrong.  I would want them to listen to their mind's voice, and to see with their mind's eye, and then commit to what they "Hear" and "See".

I would pray that every child has the opportunity to be actively and passionately involved in the process of creating knowledge and understanding for themselves and for others and that each and every one of us share a respect for the dignity of hard work, an understanding of the empowerment that accompanies accomplishment, and realization of the importance of humility in our dealings with others.

Our children are going to inherit a very dangerous world.  We are obligated to give them the power to invent ways to ensure their survival.

Other interviews: 6 August 2002
Photos | Q&A

- 5 August 2002


Last Updated:
8 January 2015

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