Coming off the success of their first year, Brunswick County School’s “FIRST” (the acronym of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team is more excited than ever for a new season in 2018.
The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) kickoff for the year began Saturday, January 6, marking the beginning of the design and build season. This year’s FIRST theme is “Power Up” where students will build a robot of their own design to compete in tournaments. (Read more about the creation of the FIRST Robotics Team and LEGO League in Brunswick County here.)
Currently, there are approximately 25 active members participating in the program with representation from all five Brunswick County high schools.
Looking back on the inaugural year, the 2016-17 FRC season was filled with many noted accomplishments. The FRC Robotics Team competed in two competitions. The first was in Winterville, NC in Pitt County on March 4 & 5; the second was in Raleigh, NC in Wake County on March 24 & 25.
Despite being their rookie year and not having the tools, equipment, and experience needed to compete at the highest levels, the Brunswick County team was successful in building a working robot that was able to compete at both of these competitions. Students not only worked together to build a robot throughout the academic year, but they also had to solve problems in the heat of battle. They had to analyze problems, brainstorm approaches and implement solutions during the pressure of competition. And it was so much fun that many of the students from last year are returning again this year.
“FIRST Robotics has been great for me because it allowed me to develop important STEM skills as well as leadership skills,” states team member Ricky Berry. “It has also been great for networking with professionals currently in various STEM fields as well as future STEM professionals.”
The 2016-17 build season and competitions resulted in many lessons learned. Initially, many of the students did not know each other as the team consisted of students from all five high schools in the Brunswick County School System (Brunswick County Academy, Early College, North Brunswick High, South Brunswick High and West Brunswick High).
First, the team learned how successful teams are made. The build season began once the specific challenge was released. The team had to develop the plan, implement it, and then make any changes needed to build a robot to meet the selected FIRST objectives. This process resulted in certain students learning to be leaders while all students learned to become both flexible and adaptable. The team worked with a variety of adult coaches and mentors who also had different personalities. These newly acquired skills served the team well during the competitions.
The second lesson learned was the importance of perseverance. Since the students learned to work well together during the build season, they were able to find solutions to the obstacles encountered in real time, which meant trying to get a functioning robot to the competition field in time for the assigned match. The moments were often intense with quick turnaround times between matches.
Work in the pit was impressive and they learned to seek advice from other teams. This exchange between teams allowed the Brunswick County students to experience what it means to practice “Gracious Professionalism,” which is an underlying principle of FIRST Robotics.
Many lessons the students learned took place in and around the pit area. Safety was always a priority and the team reminded each other not to run in the pit area and to wear their safety goggles at all times.
It was also important while in the pit to figure out the strengths of their teammates and utilize those skills for the upcoming matches. Team members figured out who was the best at quickly swapping out the bumpers on the robot, who should be the human player on the competition field, and who should be the lead driver of the robot.
“I was kind of surprised at what the robots were going to be like,” explains Brandon Poletti. “I didn’t realize you could do so many things. If you don’t do everything right, the robot could malfunction.”
Overall, students exceeded the expectations of the coaches and mentors. The adults involved in the 2016-17 FRC season watched the students transition from being uncertain, unable to effectively communicate with each other, and looking at the kit of parts at the start of the build season with confusion to becoming problem solvers who had fun.
The benefits of robotics to the community have been endless. FIRST participants learned from professional engineers in their own community and the program has put Brunswick County on the map as a STEM center. Since it’s inception last year, the team has grown to four full-time volunteer mentors, three full-time volunteer coaches (who are also teachers with Brunswick County schools), parents and several community sponsors. Sponsors have included Duke Energy Progress, Shallotte Rotary Club, and the American Nuclear Society, among others. The team has been exposed to a diverse mix of professionals.
And, of course, the students involved mastered STEM skills, gained hands-on experience using sophisticated computer software and hardware, improved teamwork, interpersonal and communication skills and qualified for college scholarships.
“In school, we teach the tools such as the math that is involved in robotics,” explains North Brunswick High School Math Teacher Tracey Weisgold. “But with a FIRST Robotics Team, we teach how to apply those tools to develop a working robot to accomplish a goal. For example, in physics, we teach Newton’s law, but in robotics, we teach how to apply Newton’s laws to propel a ball. Students are introduced to industry standard programming language and how to apply logic to program the robot. Engineering project management skills and methodologies are used to design, build and test the robot in a finite time. In addition, students have an opportunity to meet and compete with students from all over the state, nation and, if really good, internationally.”
Looking ahead, the team has some goals for the new season. They specifically want to increase female membership as well as encourage even more participation from underrepresented high schools like South Brunswick High and North Brunswick High.
The team also plans to attend two competitions this year to showcase their 2018 robot. They will be returning to the competition in Pitt County and their second competition for the 2018 season will be held in Pembroke in Robeson County.
They intend to build a more competitive robot, improve their overall ranking, and improve their skills at teamwork with their fellow robotics team members, coaches, and mentors. The team will continue to meet at Brunswick County Academy for the 2018 season to connect, compare notes, and generate new ideas for the next competition season.
“FIRST Robotics is so much more than just technology,” states team member Christina Liu. “It teaches you leadership skills and provides so many opportunities to grow, not only academically, but mentally as well.”
Learn more through the FIRST Robotics website www.firstinspires.org.