I played high school sports and loved the experience of being part of a team. When I had the chance to attend a recent presentation by Lexrobotics, FIRST Robotics high school teams based in Lexington, MA, I was struck by the similarities between their team and my experience playing team sports. Being part of a FIRST Robotics team is the tech equivalent of being part of a sports team, but in this case, you get to design, build, program, and compete with a robot that you created.
The Lexrobotics teams are organized through the Lexington High School and they compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) competitions that occur around the northeast region. FTC is a nationwide program designed for students in grades 7-12. Each year, a new game challenge is presented and students develop their strategy and build a robot based on sound engineering principles.
Lexrobotics has two high school teams. The first is Team #4029 – 2 Bits and a Byte, now in its 6th full season of FTC competition. This co-ed team recently returned from the World Championships in St. Louis, MO. The second is Team #8379 – The Parity Bits, a brand new all-girls team that began its rookie season this year.
Lexrobotic’s presentation was terrific– it was very interesting to hear what the students do on a day-to-day basis to prepare for tournaments. They explained how team members work together, the engineering they do (including designing, building, programming and testing), and the challenges they face both in preparation and in competitions. While they do have a teacher/adviser, most of what they learn is self-taught, through trial and error. They learn from their mistakes and are constantly improvising and making improvements to their robots.
Each student went around the room and shared a bit about why they joined the team and the role they play on the team– not surprising, there were a lot of LEGO-lovers in the group. Some kids build, some program, others do both. After the formal presentation, they hosted an “open house” so that everyone could see the robots in action, try their hand at controlling them, and talk with the students.
These kids are quite accomplished and their results are attributed to a great deal of hard work (they meet at least three times/week), dedication, self-teaching, and experimentation. It’s obvious they love what they do and don’t mind the effort it takes. After hearing them speak, I recognized that they were not only getting real-world engineering experience but invaluable life experience.
How Teens Benefit From FIRST Robotics
There are many important skills students can acquire from being part of a FIRST Robotics team but there were five that I thought would help prepare them for college and the work world:
1) Hands-on Engineering: Students get design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and programming experience.
2) Team Participation: Students experience the camaraderie and the friendships that come from spending time together and working on long-term projects.
3) Competitive Spirit: The competitions give students a goal to focus on and challenge them to be their best. The FIRST program also emphasizes “gracious professionalism”, meaning that while you are competing, it should always be done in a kind and respectful manner.
4) Leadership: There are many opportunities to take a leadership role on the team (e.g., be a captain, fundraise, be a technical lead, etc.).
5) Time Management: Designing, building, testing, and competing in a robotics program require a strong work ethic and time commitment. This experience helps students learn how to plan and schedule their daily and weekly activities.
Joining a FIRST Robotics team is an excellent opportunity for high school students who love robotics and are considering pursuing engineering in college. It will increase their engineering knowledge and provide them with a deeply rewarding team experience. Click here to learn if there is a program in your area.