Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Working with First Robotics Team 340. Year 3

As readers of this blog know, I have been working with FIRST Robotics Team 340, Greater Rochester Robotics for three years. In the past I have written about this being real problem based learning, that must have been the theme for the first FIRST year. I am once again amazed with what these students learn and how they go about solving a complex problem in six weeks.

All FIRST Robotics teams found out about this year’s game, Logomotion, at the season kick-off on January 8th. Our team, for the second year, held a tailgate party in the parking lot of the Theater on the Ridge, one of Kodak’s buildings in Rochester. A freezing good time was had by all. After the kick-off, we went to work.

One of the most excruciating times is the meeting on kick-off day. Excruciating, but necessary. It is then, we go over the rules and discuss what the team will focus on for the build. Brainstorming is never pretty, but it is needed for all to have input. It would be all too easy for the adults to tell them what we are going to build and how to go about it, but that is not the point of FIRST, it is for students to do the work and adults to help and advice. Sort of like some boy scout troops in the world, some are really boy run, others are run by the adults, which do the kids learn more about decision making and leadership? Just as I am sure there are some FIRST teams out there where the adults do all of the work, and the students? I really don’t know.

Last week students started to build prototypes for parts of the robot. This is where they can let their creativity shine. They had several ideas for the “minibot” built and tested, and re-tested. It is nice to see how they learn from problems and make fixes. It looks as if we will have a good minibot to climb the pole at the end of the game. Delivering the minibot to the pole at the end of the game is a future concern.  Another set of students have been working on the problem of picking up and delivering the inner tubes to the scoring rack. This group has in turn broken up into smaller groups to work on their ideas. They met last night and discussed their ideas, and showed some rough prototypes. All of these look promising. This piece is critical for the game, it needs to be robust and simple. Weight of the piece is also a concern, as it needs to be lifted about 10’ off of the ground and not tip over the base of the robot.

We have groups working on the frame, programming and electrical components. Programming and electrical are in their own room so they are doing whatever they are doing.

Watching the students grow and learn over the years is fun. My oldest son, who is a senior and also in his third year (there is a connection, you know), is the head of electrical. Seeing him work and plan is great. His knowing so much about electronics is amazing, and this hands on experience will help him next year as he goes off to college to study engineering. A quick disclaimer, he has a wonderful Project Lead The Way program at his school, where he has learned most of this stuff.  But seeing him put this knowledge to work is very nice.

My youngest is in his second year of FIRST, and has been working on the part of the robot to pick up tubes. He has good ideas and is working hard to make his the best of the bunch. There are several that are doing the same, and many of them would be good choices for the final pick. I watched him present to the group last night. He has no problem speaking to the group, but has a few speaking and meeting skills that will be worked on over time. He wants to be a teacher, so learning how to speak to a group and have a discussion is a great head start.

There is so much to do and so much to learn. If you have any questions about this experience, let me know, or contact FIRST. There are programs for younger students and smaller schools too. My boys and I helped a  school start a FIRST Lego League team, which was a great learning experience for them, and the team learned a lot from them.

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