Last weekend, the Reading “Robockets” team joined 39 other teams from all over New England to compete in the NE FIRST North Shore District Robotics Event, which was held at our own RMHS Field House. This year’s game is called RECYCLE RUSH, which is a recycling-themed game played by two Alliances of three Robots each. Robots score points by stacking Totes on Scoring Platforms, capping those stacks with Recycling Containers, and properly disposing of pool noodles, representing Litter. In keeping with the recycling theme of the game, all game pieces used are reusable or recyclable by teams in their home locations or by FIRST® at the end of the season. Each Alliance competes on their respective 26 ft. by 27 ft. side of the playing field. Each RECYCLE RUSH Match begins with a 15-second Autonomous Period in which Robots operate independently of their drivers. During this period, Robots attempt to earn points by moving themselves, their Yellow Totes, and their Recycling Containers into the area between the white scoring platforms, called the Auto Zone. During the remaining two minutes and 15 seconds of the match, called the Teleop Period, Robots are controlled remotely by student drivers located behind the walls at the ends of the field. Teams on an Alliance work together to place as many Totes on their white Scoring Platforms as possible.
During the weekend, Reading finished 11th in the qualifying round out of 40 teams. They then became eligible to compete in the competition round of 8 alliances where they finished as the third best alliance in the entire competition. In addition, Reading received one of the prestigious Judge’s awards, the Entrepreneurship award for their outstanding business plan, implementing that business plan, and reaching out to the greater community. Congratulations to the Robockets who now will compete in Smithsfield, Rhode Island on March 20-21st. If they rank high enough, they will be invited to compete in the district tournament at WPI in April.
Some additional thoughts about last weekend’s event
Over the last several years, our school district has focused on our mission of Instilling a joy of learning and inspiring the innovative leaders of tomorrow. The NE FIRST program and this competition clearly supports that mission. FIRST goes far beyond what those other STEM opportunities provide because for six weeks, students are given a challenge that goes well beyond building a robot to perform a task. Students have to be entrepreneurs and raise funds, they have to use technology and engineering skills to develop a design and plan, they have to market and brand their team to the community and to sponsors, they have to have people willing to lead, and those that are willing to follow. They have to test ideas, fail at those ideas, and retest them with new solutions. Team members have to work together because if they do not, they will not be able to fulfill your challenge. And, they had to face unexpected obstacles, like multiple snow storms. All of this had to be done in 6 weeks’ time, while at the same time they need to continue to participate in school, a job, their family, and other responsibilities. It is evident that this process prepares students for life with skills that will give them the ability to face many more difficult challenges.
The NE FIRST Teams all seemed to have three common themes. First, there was this consistent buzz of positive energy and enthusiasm. Many participants said during the event that this program has changed their life because it is exciting, challenging, builds lasting friendships and is hard work. One student even quoted saying, that “this is the hardest fun that he has ever had, but he would never stop doing it”. It is this contagious enthusiasm that was heard consistently all weekend.
Another theme that was observed was the different types of students that participated. One would think that since this was a robotics event, most students would want to be engineers. This was clearly not the case as teams had not only future engineers, but future artists, entrepreneurs, storytellers, scientists, teachers, architects, and computer software designers. What is evident is that this program is for every student, regardless of their background, skills, or talents. Each member of the team finds his or her own role and contributes in a very powerful way.
The final theme that emerged is that this process is more than building a robot to complete a task. Participating in FIRST teaches skills that a student will need well beyond this competition. Skills like communication, time management, innovation, problem solving, creativity, and most importantly, teamwork. These are the skills that will prepare students for life, regardless of what field they pursue.
The students that were at the event last weekend could potentially be the future Leonardo DaVinci, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Ellen Ochoa, and other skilled entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers of their generation. They are part of the generation that will be solving the environmental, fiscal, and technological problems that face our communities, our country, and our world. It is clear that with events like this, our region is in good hands and their participation in this FIRST program prepares them to work as a team and tackle those challenges.
The overall running of the event was a complete success and like any event of this magnitude it took a Team to make the event run smoothly. Special thanks goes to NE FIRST, Co-Chairs Sanat Patel and Kyle Henry, our Reading Robockets Team and their parents, our Facilities Department and our technology departments for the time and effort in planning the logistics of this past weekend.