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Kristine Atiyeh – This Is How I Work

This month we are looking at Kristine Atiyeh, an inspiring mentor who helps kids learn in all sorts of ways. She is a teacher and mentor to many young kids, from her art classes to her work with Lego Robotics for the Latino STEM Alliance. She shares her knowledge of robotics gained from years of experience of being on FRC team 175 Buzz Robotics. She is now a mentor on 125 NUTRONS and was recently on GameSense to present the 2016 game hint! If you want to know more about this incredible mentor and her experiences, read the article and see how our amazing FRC mentors work!
[Responses from July 28, 2015]
Name: Kristine Atiyeh
CD Username: Katiyeh07
Current Gig/Job: Elementary Art Educator- Norwood Public Schools /
Robotics Educator – Latino STEM Alliance
Alma Mater/Degree: BFA Art Education from Massachusetts College of
Art and Design
Current Team(s): 125 NUTRONS
Former Team(s): 175 Buzz Robotics – Student / 126 Gael Force –
Location: Boston, MA
Hobbies: Taking care of my class pet, Tacos the Leopard Gecko and
the occasional art making.
What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
When I was in high school I went to my
freshman open house and saw the ceramics teacher throwing on the potter’s
wheel. It was one of the most mesmerizing things I had seen, so I signed up for
all of his ceramics classes. I didn’t think about going into teaching until one
of my mentors on 175 sat me down to help me figure out what I wanted to do
beyond high school.. Mike Sperber made me see the importance and value of
working directly with people on a regular basis. He also made me see the
parallels in art education and STEM world. I was/am horrible with math, so I
knew engineering wasn’t exactly up my ally.
Teaching art allows me to integrate other
subject areas and teach it in a different way that makes more sense to some
students. We do a lot of science and math based projects in my curriculum, and
my students sometimes don’t quite realize they’re doing something with really
strong math concepts until I point it out. Which sometimes makes them mad, but
they’re usually pretty excited and interested when they can apply math, science
and writing concepts in their artwork. I’ve also realized that comparing any sort
of learning concept to food makes any kid understand what’s going on. For
example when we do clay I typically tell them to roll it out to the thickness
of a fluffy pancake, or fold in the shape of a Dorito.
I started teaching Lego Robotics for the
Latino STEM Alliance after joining the NUTRONS in the spring of 2014. This was
really rewarding for me to work with elementary students doing robotics, and we
even managed to integrate some art into it during our summer program. I really
love doing this because my NUTRONS students help me learn the skill sets that I
teach my students. It’s also a nice break from being covered in art materials
and anxiously hoping no one dumps paint water all over the place (because
school paper towels, yes the brown ones, are AWFUL). However we do usually get
our robots to draw, it’s a great way to challenge the students by having to
create a mechanism that will hold a marker and program their robot to create
certain shapes.
What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I’m an elementary art teacher for
Norwood Public Schools, and have approximately 760 students between in grades 1
through 5 at two different schools. I got there by applying for a million jobs,
my interview in Norwood went really well and they were super interested in my
robotics background. What I absolutely LOVE about my school district is how
local businesses display student artwork and how unbelievably supportive my
Fine Arts boss is of my robotics endeavors. We’re hopefully (fingers crossed)
starting a Jr FLL team this year at my schools, and at the very least a
robotics after school club. I also teach Lego Robotics to a group of elementary
students in Dorchester through an amazing Boston nonprofit called the Latino
STEM Alliance. They bring robotics programs to students of all ages in low
income areas.
One of my absolute favorite
things about being a teacher is seeing a student do something or figure
something out for the first time on their own. I’ve gotten to see a few kids
tie their shoe on their own for the first time, and the look on their face is
pretty much indescribably awesome.
What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
At World Champs this past year, I
had ordered a giant box of WE ARE NE
sunglasses to hand out to teams. It was last minute, but they were slated to be
delivered to my hotel (which is an entire circus of a story in itself) on
Wednesday of the event, which was perfect timing. Wednesday came and went and a
message on the FedEx tracking page said “No attempt made, delivery scheduled
for next business day”. The next day the same message popped up, so I tweeted
at FedEx with a screenshot of the weird message, and then bumped into a group
of FedEx employees in the pits. I asked if they would know anything about it
and they took down my tracking number and information after apologizing and
being really nice. Within 30 minutes of speaking with them, they found me in
the pits again and told me they were working on it and had located my package.
Within an hour of first speaking with them, they came by my team’s pit and had
2 tote bags full of FedEx selfie sticks since we didn’t have our package of
sunglasses yet (there are few things more exciting to a NUTRONS team member
than a selfie stick), which blew me away, they definitely didn’t have to do
that. Then within about an hour and a half of first speaking to them, they
delivered my box of sunglasses TO MY TEAM’S PIT. Somehow managed to locate the
package, get it to the dome, and then get it to my pit. It was hands down the
best customer service experience of my life so far, the FedEx employees at
Championships were unbelievable.

What’s your favorite robot that you didn’t help build?
It’s a tie between 25’s robot in
2000 and 118’s Chainzilla in 2005.
As a 5th grader in
2000 I was obsessed with Toy Story and claw machines, and that robot was a
gigantic claw machine. Their strategy to park themselves on the bar and just
pick out the black balls was a great compliment to a lot of alliances and
something I was mesmerized by as a child. I still to this day want to drive it
and pick out every ball in the scoring troph.
118’s Chainzilla in 2005 was
unlike any other robot I had ever seen before. The combo of their gigantic
arms, elevator and ridiculous amount of intricately placed chain was something
I was in complete awe over. My team at the time, 175, played them in the semis
on Curie that year at Champs, and I didn’t think we were going to beat them.
Their two tetra autonomous can be seen here.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My Play1 is something I use a lot
in my classroom and at home. Sharpies and block erasers are the two art
supplies I keep stocked up the most in my classrooms, my students rip through
them at an unreasonable rate. I also finally just left the stapler out next to
the pencil sharpener in my room. If there’s one thing I’ve realized about kids,
it’s that they will break their pencils just so they can sharpen it again and
again. And they love stapling things. I’m was once told I’m a “cool teacher”
because I let them use the stapler whenever and have a big basket of scotch
tape rolls for whenever they’re needed.
At the NUTRONS lab we can’t live
without our SONOS speakers and finely tuned Pandora stations, they keep things
fun. Also after this season I don’t think we could live without our HP mega
printer. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant that allowed us to
purchase a super nice printer that has a large spool of paper on it. We used it
to create red carpet- like backdrops for districts and also make a 4ft by 6ft
poster of the NEU District Volunteer of the Year (waddup Marc Polansky).
What’s your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)

This photo was taken late at night when I was finishing the assembly of
a 5th grade collaborative sculpture. But it’s one of the only photos of one of
my classrooms. This is my larger school that I’ve now taught at for three
I’m incredibly lucky to have a
classroom to myself at both schools. In both of my classrooms in Norwood I have
a designated reading space with a lot of different books for reference and for
students to check out if they finish early. At one of my schools we have Tacos
the leopard gecko, after receiving a Petco Pets in the Classroom Grant last
year. The students love her, I often get random drawings of her doing
ridiculous things like wielding swords in space, sledding and walking through

Tacos is a 7 year old Leopard Gecko we
adopted, she’s currently growing her tail back, we’re not sure what happened to
it before we adopted her. She smiles all the time.

 I have a lot of awesome photos of astronauts
in this classroom along with a giant photo of a praying mantis. There’s a lot
of cat things in my classroom, and a giant conch shell on my desk from Cayman
Brac (yes you can hear the “ocean” in it). 
We’ve also got a lot of cheesy motivational posters I’ve made that my
students love, and next to them are the anti-Seahawks posters my students
lovingly made me during the superbowl.

A new addition to my
classroom/curriculum this year will be a Makerbot 3D printer that was funded
through! Pretty excited for that.
The NUTRONS lab is a really
interesting space. We share a shop several other Northeastern Engineering
groups such as Solar Boat, Baja Racing and Steel Bridge and the occasional
cockroach. The students get an inside look at what the college groups do. We
have a space we share with Steel Bridge where we do a lot of assembling, an
office, a shared machine shop and a storage room. We tend to work in the
hallways, unoccupied classrooms and do large group brainstorming sessions in
lecture halls. We don’t have an actual practice space, but we sometimes can
find a room or two with a tall ceiling and some carpet to test the robot before
it heads into the bag. One of my favorite things about our team is that we turn
just about anything into a challenge, game, or competition with students and

This is our shared cage space where we
do most of our assembly
I currently live in Jamaica
Plains with Jess Boucher. It’s a quiet part of Boston where you can always see
someone walking their dog or running regardless of the weather and a yarn
bombed tree or lamp post. It’s a great community with a nice pond, great food,
and lots of fun animals.  There’s also a
ridiculously fat cat that lives across the street. Literally the fattest cat
I’ve ever seen in my life.
What do you listen to while you work?

I have the absolute pleasure of
listening to my students say the best and most ridiculous things while I work.
Here are a few of my favorites:
-2nd grader: Miss
Atiyeh, do you believe in ghosts?
-5th grader: I think
this marker is pizza scented! (she was smelling a Sharpie)
-1st grader: Is it ok
if I accidentally draw on the tables with crayon?
-2nd grade boy: I
collect Pokemon cards. 2nd grade girl: I collect money
-1st grade boy: I don’t care
about snakes anymore, I only care about Jurassic Park.
Sometimes we listen to Jazz or
music without lyrics. Despite never seeing Frozen, I know 80% of the lyrics to
every song thanks to my first and second graders and Amit, our NUTRONS 2015
student captain. The teacher next door also will randomly play Take Me Out to
the Ballgame really loudly around 2pm, it’s weird.
What’s your schedule like during build season?
Pre kick off I always tell my
friends and coworkers “See you in May!”. They laugh, and then they realize I’m
not joking.
I go directly from work in
Norwood to the NUTRONS lab at Northeastern. We meet at the lab every week day
5-9 and 10-3 ish on the weekends. Last year I managed to balance leading the
Non Technical side of our team with being the UMDD Committee Chair, NEUD Committee
Event Manager, NE FIRST Social Media
Manager and doing some other side committees for NE FIRST. Two nights out
of the week are “Meeting Inception” nights where there’s a line up of call in
meetings for district events and sub committees after my school staff meetings.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I think I’m really good at
getting my students to laugh.
I’m also pretty good at tricking
leopard geckos into taking medicine.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be open to collaboration,
surround yourself with people who will challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot
of time with them, and it’ll change your life.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Netflix and french-fries.
Fill in the blank. I’d love to see Jamee Luce the FRC Team Advocate answer these same
Anything else you want people to know about you?
It definitely feels weird
sometimes being an Elementary Art teacher in the FRC community where most
everyone is not quite doing that at all. I used to jokingly following up most
of the things I’d say at robotics to people with: “But what do I know, I’m just
an elementary school art teacher”. But then I realized I know more than I give
myself credit for when it comes to non technical related things, and it took
some time to really see the value of that. People and teams who had asked me
for help with grants, awards, judging, fitting my narrow wrists into awkward
small places and other things that didn’t involve math, made me see that the
non tech knowledge I had was valuable and almost as useful as technical things.
So if you’re out there feeling like you’re less valuable than the person who
can do all the crazy geometry and programming to make the robot score the
points and do the things, you’re not. Especially nowadays when district
rankings rely heavily on award points, and money doesn’t grow on trees so
grants need to be applied for. Just do you, be open to feedback, advice, read
/ask up on what others are doing regardless of their team number or number of
green dots they have on Delphi. Keep striving to learn more, do more, do better
and help others.

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself” – Amy Poehler