“FIRST is more than robots. The robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills. Kids often come in not knowing what to expect – of the program nor of themselves. They leave, even after the first season, with a vision, with confidence, and with a sense that they can create their own future.”
– Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST
There are numerous benefits that team members gain from a competitive robotics environment, as you can see from the long list below. It should be noted, however, that some members will learn different skill sets than others during a year. And some of the soft benefits may be more important to you than others.
Mechanical Engineering: In designing and building a robot, the team is continually solving problems involving motion, forces, center of gravity, and even materials science.
CAD (Computer Aided Design): FIRST has a relationship with the company that produces Solidworks, a tool that is widely used in industry today. Through this relationship, FTC teams are able to obtain free licenses. We strongly encourage designs to be worked out through Solidworks prior to physical builds, and will work with the team members to develop their proficiency using the tool. We have created several training videos for Solidworks, and will add more in the future.
Programming: All robot movement is controlled by java based programs that are written by team members. The robot must be programmed for autonomous movements (completely controlled by a program) and for tele-op mode (controlled by a driver). The programs receive input from various sensors, motor encoders, and a driver controller; then the programs drive motors, servos, and feedback devices like LED lights to accomplish the tasks.
Math: Each year there are multiple design or programming dilemmas that require some calculations to determine our strategy. Here is an example of a torque requirement calculation that was prepared to demonstrate how the calculations should be documented in our Engineering Notebook.
Public speaking: All team members must participate in the judges presentation (see Competitions). This is an opportunity for team members to learn how to make eye contact, speak clearly, and communicate effectively.
Documentation/Engineering Notebook: An Engineering Notebook is used to document the journey taken by the team, and all team members must contribute. This is a requirement for all awards presented at competitions.
3D Printing: We used a recently purchased 3D printer extensively during the 2018 season. We learned a lot in that time (and still have a lot to learn!) and we are eager to pass along that knowledge.
Marketing/Social Media: Team members should be involved with promoting the team, establishing community relations, and building strong relationships with our sponsors through the tools of social media, email and newsletters.
Website Design & Maintenance: A veteran team will also create and maintain a website that helps accomplish many of the same goals. A website also helps raise the team’s visibility to other FTC teams.
Photography, Videography and Video production: There are numerous opportunities to use photos and videos. In addition to the marketing and website above, FTC has two awards that are given to teams for video submissions, the Promote and Compass awards.
Teamwork: The season’s goals can only be accomplished if the team works together and trusts each other in their areas of responsibility. My favorite story from the 2017 season is about a team of 11 teens who learned this after several months of individualized efforts.
Communication: Team members must communicate their ideas to other team members and coaches. They must clearly tell judges about their accomplishments and design. They can talk to sponsors and the community about the advantages of STEM activities. All of this adds up to increased communication skills.
Time Management: Teams must learn to use the limited meeting time to maximum potential.
Conflict Resolution: Conflicts will arise during the season, whether it is different design ideas, clashing personalities, or something else.
Problem Solving: By continually solving the different problems that arise during a season, the team members get better at problem solving in general.
Confidence: The experience of working with like-minded peers, exchanging ideas and providing value to the team gives every member a boost in self confidence.
Exposure to STEM professionals: As often as we can, we try to schedule opportunities for team members to learn from STEM professionals. For instance, we have already been in contact with some NASA engineers who are ready to schedule a Skype Q&A session with New Kent Robotics!
Homeschool credits: Because of the many different areas of knowledge covered through a season, a season of robotics can be counted in many different ways on a homeschooler’s transcript.
STEM Studies and Careers: According to studies by FIRST, students who engage in their programs are much more likely to enroll in STEM studies later, or pursue STEM related careers.
Scholarships: Students who compete in FIRST programs like FTC have access to $80 million in scholarship funds through about 200 different scholarship providers.
College Applications: Extracurricular robotics helps distinguish students on their college applications, opening more opportunities for higher education.
Gracious Professionalism is a term coined by Woody Flowers, co-founder of FIRST. While Gracious Professionalism is purposely left undefined, it’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions.