Since careers in the science and engineering fields are expected to grow at a faster-projected rate than all other U.S. jobs, it makes sense to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) into all subjects to prepare students for the future.
One way schools can get students more involved in STEM is to establish For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST®) robotics clubs and teams.
FIRST offers several levels of student participation, including:
- FIRST® Lego® League JR. uses Lego to introduce STEM concepts to children ages 6-10.
- FIRST® League challenges students in 4th-8th grade to develop solutions to real-world problems such as recycling, and food safety.
- FIRST® Tech Challenge team members in 7th-12th grades design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge.
- FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) combines sport with the rigors of science and technology.
Each year, FRC develops a new competition/game for teams across the world. Teams are given six weeks to design, build and program their robot. Along with the robot, there are also competitions that teams and individuals can compete in based on their work in the community involved in FIRST.
Paradise Valley High School has had proven success with its FIRST Robotics team, Team Paradise 1165, which was established in 2003. FIRST Robotics was created by Dean Kamen in 1992 with 28 teams. Today, there nearly 400,00 participants and four levels of competition for students in elementary school through high school.
“Robotics programs offer students of all ages the chance to learn and participate in different STEM projects,” said Robert Kabrich, a math teacher at Paradise Valley High School and robotics club mentor. “The programs gives the students hands-on opportunities to design, build and program different level robots depending on their grade level.”
In addition to the FRC – Team Paradise 1165, PVSchools has a FIRST Lego League Team at North Ranch Elementary School and two FIRST Tech Challenge teams at Sunrise Middle School. Team Paradise has been instrumental in creating and mentoring the younger teams.
Types of Robots
The FIRST Lego League teams build robots from a Lego kit. These are small robots that roughly measure 8” by 8” by 8”. The FIRST Tech Challenge teams built from a kit of parts and are larger robots with a finished size of 18” by 18” by 18”. FRC teams robots are built from aluminum, wood, motors, controllers and other electrical and pneumatic components. This is a larger sized robot and can measure 2’ by 3’ by 4’.
These robots can be programmed to move in multiple directions and to catapult objects.
“Programming involves using JAVA and WPI FIRST libraries to get the robot to accomplish the tasks it’s designed for such as driving. We have several mentors who are experienced with programming and teaching the students how to do it,” Kabrich said. “It’s best if the student already has familiarity with programming in the JAVA language.”
How to Form a Team.
- Find support resources: Familiarize yourself with the FIRST Robotic Competition. The Regional Director or the FIRST Senior Mentor.
- Enlist coaches and mentors: Each team will need at least one adult mentor with technical expertise willing and motivated to “coach” the team through the build and the competition season. It also recommended having two or more adults to help with administration, fundraising, community outreach and other tasks.
- Register and play: By registering your team, you’ll be part of the huge FIRST Robotics Competition community. You’ll receive communications from FIRST, along with a temporary team number in preparation for event registration in the fall. Create a team roster to submit with your registration. It’s important to note that registering includes event registration and ordering the kit of parts. Completing the registration process does not commit you to becoming a team.
- Build your team: Find and invite at least ten students who want to be a part if a robotics team. Be sure to emphasize that technical skills are not required just enthusiasm and the willingness to learn. Be sure to recruit all kinds of talents, not just engineering and electronics.
- Raise funds: You’ll team will need a steady supply of funds. Recruit local businesses to sponsor your team. There are also many fundraising opportunities team can explore. Grants are available for both rookie and underserved teams.
- Safety first: At FIRST student safety is always paramount. Every adult must be familiar with the FIRST Youth Protection Program (YPP). It’s important to take the time to watch the FIRST videos and read the youth protection materials.
- Build robots: Part of the fun is designing and building robots. FIRST provides a wealth of information in their resource library. Here you’ll find everything from technical guides to fundraising ideas or fun activities for your team.