Tag Archives: FIRST

Where I’ve Been for Three Months

You may have noticed that I’ve been mostly absent from the intertubes for the past three months. This happens every year from January through March. Why? It was all for a girl named Lucy:

Lucy

Actually, it wasn’t for Lucy at all, it was to provide the most awarding high school experience of which I’m aware to them:

Team 3061

They are Huskie Robotics, FIRST Team 3061.

A bit over four years ago, with no prior notice, I was asked by a student I didn’t know to show up in a meeting room at school to discuss a robotics program. A couple of hours later, four students and four teachers had signed the paperwork to found FIRST Team 3061 and participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

We just completed our fourth season. It was an amazing year. We rebranded the team with a new logo and a new name: Huskie Robotics. We secured major funding from Navistar, the Motorola Solutions Foundation, and our high school Boosters Club. We partnered with Create, Cut, and Invent for fabrication. We had several dedicated mentors working with the students. With our corporate support, we were able to attend two regional competitions. Two weeks ago we participated in the Lake Superior Regional. We didn’t make the elimination rounds, but we discovered and fixed several issues, refined our strategy, and got a lot of practice. This weekend, we participated in the Midwest Regional with teams from the midwest as well as Arkansas and Texas.

We finished the qualification matches with a 9-2 record and ranked 10th! During the alliance selection process where the top teams choose their alliance partners for the elimination matches, we ended up as the captain of the 7th alliance! Thanks to our scouting reports, we were able to make wise decisions and select teams that were under-ranked and overlooked by others. Teams 1710 (Ravonics Revolution) and 1781 (Electric Eagles) graciously accepted our invitation to join our alliance.

As the 7th ranked alliance, we met the #2 ranked alliance, consisting of teams 1625 (Winnovation), 2949 (Pwnage), and 3135 (Robotic Colonels). in the quarterfinals. We won the first match 42-36 and won the second match 38-37 to advance to the semifinals! Both matches were won in the final seconds with all alliance members contributing to the victory.

We met the #3 seed of teams 111 (Wildstang), 71 (Team Hammond), 2151 (Monty Pythons). We lost the first match 35-53. It was actually very close as our alliance almost completed a 20-point double bridge balance in the final seconds. Our alliance had some bad luck in our next match as both our alliance partners had mechanical issues which disabled their robots from driving. We made the best of the situation, scored several baskets during the teleoperated phase, and balanced on the bridge on our own. We ended up losing 38-44. We held our own against some of the most veteran teams in all of FRC as Wildstang has won three national championships and Team Hammond has won four!

While competing as a semifinalist is the most success we have ever had at a regional competition, the team had more accolades coming our way. During the final awards ceremony, Huskie Robotics was awarded the Gracious Professionalism award for outstanding assistance to other teams both on and off the field. FIRST describes Gracious Professionalism as:

Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

We helped several teams by giving them parts and materials and by helping them program their robot. Several team members spent most of the competition assisting a particular rookie team who only had one teacher and one student present. We helped this team rewire their robot, get their ball collector and shooter to be functional, pass inspection, and write all their software. In addition, two members of our team stepped in as field players for this team! Their efforts did not go unnoticed and the judges commented that “while you usually want at St. Bernard to come and rescue you, they would prefer a Huskie!”

None of this comes easily. As one of the three teachers mentoring the team, I put almost everything else in my life on hold for three months. I’ve missed every Global Physics Department Meeting this year because I’m at school until 9 pm on Wednesdays with the team. Every Saturday that I’m not at a Science Olympiad Event or a QuarkNet Particle Physics Masterclass at Fermilab, I’m at school all day with the team. I sleep little and spend my nights on the phone or online researching, planning, purchasing, debating, or counseling. I do all of this because I believe that what these students get out this program is the most inspirational, valuable, and rewarding experience of their high school careers. They are inspired to pursue STEM-related careers; they gain the confidence that they can create something remarkable; they learn to lead through influence rather than authority; they embody the spirit of Gracious Professionalism. Every student on the team has the opportunity to go pro in this sport.

If you’ve never witnessed a FIRST Robotics Competition, go see one; you still have three weeks. Volunteer to help a local team or event. Or, if you are just crazy enough and I know that many of you are, start your own FIRST Robotics team.

STEM Talk at NI

Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting my experiences this past summer working on the Fermilab Holometer as well as my perspectives on STEM education at the high school level at National Instruments. Since my contribution to the Holometer project used National Instruments products and my family was vacationing in Austin, Texas, I offered to visit and share my experiences. I was a bit surprised when I was also asked to share my perspectives on STEM education in high school.

My presentation about the Holometer was pretty much the same as the one I gave the Global Physics Department. (I’ve written several posts about the Holometer.) I added more technical details on the NI products involved and how the signal analysis was performed to better match the audience.

At first, I didn’t feel qualified to address National Instruments employees, who work for a company that are amazing supporters of STEM in K-12 with their efforts with FIRST and LEGO. As a result, I started my presentation with disclaimers:

  • I do not have a master’s degree in STEM education
  • I am not a STEM education expert
  • I have not attended conferences and workshops in STEM education
  • I have taught at a one high school for five years

However, once I sat down and started thinking about what I would share, I realized that I, like most physics teachers, am qualified to at least share my perspective because:

every morning I get up and try to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by leveraging my experience as an engineer, an interviewer, a supervisor, and a teacher.

In my case, I specifically left National Instruments and software development to become a physics teacher to make some small contribution by inspiring students to pursue studies and careers in STEM-related fields.

I structured my presentation around three high-level themes which I elaborated with photos, videos, and stories:

Inspire Students with Experiences

I shared that few students are inspired because of something they only read or hear or see; they are inspired by their experience doing it. I shared the experiences of my FIRST Robotics Team, Science Olympiad Team, and Physics Club. Physics Club is an after school, student-driven, low-commitment group that allows all students opportunities to play, inquire, create, share, and explore. I shared our past experiences with near-space ballooning and the ping pong ball cannon. The second theme is:

Inspire Younger Students with Older Students

The main ideas for this theme are that students respond best to other students and students can loose interest in science during middle school. To address this, Physics Club and the FIRST Robotics Team perform outreach activities where younger students see projects done by the older students and build their own smaller-scale projects with the assistance of older students. The third theme is:

Inspire the other 98% in the Classroom

I was somewhat disappointed when I realized that all my efforts with FIRST Robotics, Science Olympiad, and Physics Club only involve 2% of the students at my school. I shared that this is a significant challenge but the most important theme. Many changes to a traditional classroom are required to inspire students about STEM:

  • Change Perceptions
  • Change Mindset
  • Change Pedagogy
  • Change Culture

I shared the importance of bring professionals into the classroom to share their experience and helping students appreciate that science is an active process done by real people. Despite significant local press about standards-based assessment and reporting, I shared how critical it is in my classrooms. I talked about Modeling Instruction, guided inquiry, project-based learning, and Project Lead the Way.

At the end, I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage those in attendance to help inspire students about STEM. I charged them to:

  • Be Aware
  • Promote Reform
  • Provide Support

I was honestly surprised at the level of interest in my presentation based on the attendance and the number of positive comments afterward. So, for those of you like me who are career changers, if the opportunity presents itself, share your experiences as a teacher with your former colleagues. We may gain more allies in the challenges that we face everyday.

Twas the Night before Kickoff

Twas the night before kickoff, when all through the school
Not a creature was stirring not even a ghoul;
The manuals were downloaded on the computer with care,
In hopes that decryption keys soon would be there;
The students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of drive systems danced in their heads;
And I in my safety glasses with a three-quarter inch wrench,
Had just settled down with some parts on my bench –
When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my stool to see what was the matter.
Away to the desk, I flew to my Mac,
Opened my browser, is security slack?
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Was pixelated by the camera we have there below
When, what see my tiring eyes with their gaze,
But an extra large crate, and eight tiny Segways
With a little old driver, so lively and keen,
I knew in a moment it must our Dean.
More rapid than the ship date his sponsors they came
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now! Boeing, now! DEKA, now! FedEx and Delphi,
“On! NASA, on! Baxter, on! GM and NI;
As game pieces before the matches reside,
When they meet with a robot, no longer can hide;
So up to the loading dock the Segways they flew,
With the crate full of parts – and Dean Kamen too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the dock
The door rolling open, what of the lock?
As I quit my browser, and was turning around,
In the workshop Dean Kamen came in with a bound.
He was dressed all in denim, to his ankles at least,
And his clothes were all tarnished with solder and grease.
A bundle of parts was flung on his back,
And he looked like a MechE getting ready to hack:
The gears – how they twinkled! The motors: how many?
The wire was like candy, the encoders, a penny;
The number thirty-five chain was drawn up like a bow,
And the tread of the wheels was as white as the snow;
The soldering iron he held tight in his teeth,
And the fumes they encircled his head like a wreath.
He built a square frame, and a Mecanum drive
That rolled back and forth like something alive:
It was lightweight and sleek, with pneumatics to boot,
And I smiled when I saw it attempting to shoot;
A click of a relay and a turn of its tread
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to the code,
Wired all the VIs; the cRIO did load,
And bringing his smartphone alongside his ear
And giving a nod, out the doorway he veered.
He sprang to his Segway, to his team gave a shout,
And away they all sped, I thought they’d wipe out.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove without fear –
Gracious Professionalism to all, and to all a great year!

Naperville, Illinois
7 January 2011