Last week on my way to the airport for a tour of the Midwest I stopped by the FIRST Regional Robotics competition to see our team in action. The people at FIRST clearly have a sense of humor and designed an elaborate game based loosely on the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While I was disappointed there were no French speaking knights or flying cows I was happy to see teams of robots working together to storm castle’s and cross scary obstacles. To say things were not going well for the Dublin team at the event would be an understatement. The drive train on their cool robot was struggling and they were having trouble launching “boulders” at the castle. By the time I had to leave the event, Coach Cox looked at me and said, “well at least we are not in last.”
Just as I was getting on the plane to Minneapolis I noticed that one of our students had written a note to the “Commons” on our email system stating that the team had qualified for the rounds. Wow, cool, at least they are going to take away something from the event, I thought to myself. When my plane finally landed three hours later I checked my email again to find a Commons email stating “WE WON!!!” What? I needed the story so I wrote to our coaches and asked them what had happened over those last six hours to change things so dramatically.
One of the beautiful things about the FIRST competitions is that they emphasize collaboration among teams. Teams are split into blue and red groups and in each round three blue bots compete against three red bots. Coach Ann Brehm pointed out that, “each team scouts to see what strength and weaknesses the other team’s robots have. Interestingly, one team coded software to evaluate each team's robot’s performance…” Turns out that Dublin has a reputation for being a sturdy and dependable teammate and one of the top teams decided to include Dublin in their alliance for the rounds. Other teams noticed that one of our drivers, senior Andrew Johnston, was using our bot to defend our tower exceptionally well by pushing other robots around with ease. The team figured out the limitations of our bot and focused on its strengths, an awesome drive train. According to Coach Jason Cox, “Andrew and I met with our drivers and coaches for our two alliance partners, we came came up with a strategy that involved Andrew pushing the limits of our bot and it turned out to be unstoppable.”
While spirits had been down in the early rounds, Coach Brehm noted that, "the thing that made a difference was our team attitude. Parents came in record numbers to see their students compete. The more experienced students knew that everything can change once the final alliances are chosen. The combination of feeling supported by family and being open to what can happen, helped our team be ready when opportunity came.”
For me, the experiences of our team provide great lessons for the rest of us as we find our way in this brave new world. Here are some of my own takeaways.
1. Figure out how you can contribute best to a team and focus on that and do it very well.
2. Be a good teammate, understand your role and support the larger goal.
3. Don’t give up, be open to possibility, and work hard.
4. Young adults thrive when they feel supported by the adults in their lives, both at school and at home.
5. Strong reputations are built over time and require strong character and persistent effort.
The Dublin team pushed their bot to the limit, burning out all its batteries and its drive train. They qualified for the next round and are only allowed to work directly on their bot for six hours. Good luck in the next round! We are proud of your efforts.
Link to nice article on the event: http://www.unionleader.com/Robot-combat-STEM-promotion-blend-at-Windham-competition