FIRST Things First: Where Our Robotics Program Begins

Mitch McDonald, Junior Robotics Coach and Upper School Math Teacher

FIRST Things First: Where Our Robotics Program Begins

By Mitch McDonald, Junior Robotics Coach and Upper School Math Teacher

Many of our lifelong passions are spurred when we are young, when our imagination runs wild with all the possibilities that lie before us.  Childlike wonder injects a thirst for knowledge that cannot be underestimated. This year’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) competition plays right into the hand of that wonder and amazement. The theme, Into Orbit, challenges students to provide food to astronauts, maneuver rovers, and extract pieces of the moon’s core. After constructing, satellites, equipment, and our miniature sized astronauts, our team will attempt 15 challenges that work all problem solving centers of the brain. We hope to showcase our skills at local robotics exhibitions in the area this spring.

Our season consists of two phases, the build season and our challenge season. In our build season our team well...builds. Working together to ensure accuracy and to save time, our team constructs each apparatus that we will need in order to attempt the challenges to come. During this process each member’s patience is tested as we get further into this part of the season. The fun of building starts to die down and the desire to start the challenges burns greater. As the build season comes to a close, we put down the proverbial hammer and nails and begin to work with Lego Mindstorms and flex our programming muscles.

In the challenge season, we get to work on the missions at hand. Students will work together in teams to attempt these challenges to obtain the maximum point values possible. There are penalties for having to pick up and manually move your robot and for missing drop zones. Each challenge will reward great work but also allow for partial credit if they make minor mistakes. This teaches them a valuable lesson that you need to focus on the mission at hand and revise and improve strategies later to be more successful in the future. That being said, in the real world if a rover were to collect and transmit important data, only to explode shortly thereafter, it still accomplished the mission. These interesting facts lead us to debates on what is critical to the mission, how to safely ensure the rovers return, and how to program said robot.

While FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Carriagetown Robotics, readies themselves for what is certain to be another exciting season, we are laying the foundation for the program for years to come with our outstanding Junior Robotics members. The excitement and joy they bring to our meetings each week inspires me that here at Sparhawk we are accomplishing our mission. At our Upper School the credo (Mission Statement) is what drives our community every day. The first line reads, “Sparhawk Students are willing to learn”. While that is a worthy goal, true mastery and happiness comes when that learning becomes fun, encrusted with passion, and the true childlike wonder that our team has. Keep an eye out for a chance to see our team in action this spring!