This week I'm going to cover both an awesome activity and a story of a team whose origins are most unlikely, yet remarkable in such a way. The team proved that you can achieve anything you set your sights on, even if you haven't exactly set your sights on it!
I love unique challenges and the FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) Robotics is just one of those. It's something I would have loved to have done when I was at school. I might have ended up as a coder, or engineer as this is a true hands on problem solving challenge. The closest I came was getting handcuffed to a flag pole at maths camp in year 8. However, I digress.
Over the years, I've seen snippets of different robotics challenges, but never something like this. With our federal politicians focussed on innovation, the story hit the headline news in Australia with the Prime Minister in attendance. The next thing I knew, my local high school is there, centre stage having won the Australian event!!! In that one exciting jaw dropping moment, I had to look into this in some more detail.
So to begin with what's it all about? Whilst I'm sure the official explanation on the FIRST Robotics website is way better and it has some cool vids, the challenge is essentially to design, build, program and operate a robot that can navigate its way around obstacles, score goals with balls, throw frisbees or balance on beams. It's an awesome mix that requires teams to plan strategies, problem solve, think 10 steps head and be ready at any moment to adapt! A wonderful and challenging opportunity for any student. The overall premise of the ‘sport’ is one of gracious professionalism, a valiant and honourable theme for a competition, so you know there’s way more to it than just winning.
So enter the Ulladulla Game of Drones, a ‘rookie team’ whose first year in the competition has thrust them into the spotlight as winners of our National Championships, destining them for St. Louis, smack bang in the middle of the USA!
The team started from a shout out by one of the Ulladulla High teachers to see if there were any interest. To begin with, there wasn’t much... A far cry from some other teams in the championships who have to limit the number of students in their team. However, if the story ended there it would be very short and there wouldn't have been a big community dinner to go to the other night.
Slowly but surely, interest started to trickle in and a team emerged with a variety of skills and talents from engineering to coding to media, but as I was told by Mason, the team's all star photographer and media man, "Everyone pitched in to do a bit of everything. We didn't have a huge team like other schools, who were able to specialise and just do one task. If we saw that someone needed help, everyone just got in there and helped them out."
Just for the record, the average size of a team is approximately 25 students! Although it can range anywhere from 2 to 150!!! Ulladulla High has 11!
This is what I love so much about this challenge. It's less about the robots and the completion and more about the teamwork, problem solving and the experiential learning along the way.
I asked the team how they kicked things off.
"We started out with a closed Facebook group. Then used email, chat to set up meetings. We worked over the summer holidays on this. The first few weeks it was each Saturday. Then during school time, it was Tues, Wed Thurs after school, or whenever needed,” said Mason.
Many afternoons turned into late nights as the team designed, built and tested their robot. The coding came down to Lara, Riley and Jackson.
"Some people were better at engineering than others and then some better at coding,” said Lara, who had to learn Java along the way. "With coding you tell the robot what to do. You use it to add and assigning commands to buttons."
Since the team only had experience in coding C++ they had to learn Java, really fast! So I asked them how they did this? "We used different websites to get the robot moving and using other resources to expand on this. Once you know the basics, it gets easy!” commented Lara. "Also YouTube is awesome!"
Without any expectations, or grand visions, the team went to the national championships held at Sydney Olympic. They were told they were a 'rookie team’ and were never going to win, yet they did! This is testament to both their persistence and their attitude, which is so important. If you have a negative attitude, you will never get anywhere. If you have a positive attitude and give it your all… You can achieve anything! For all the details on the win, check out Jackson’s awesome speech!
This was a major project management task and something a lot of adults could never see through. That's what impressed me so much when I was talking with these guys. I admired the tenacity to just get in there and learn something completely new, help each other out and work towards a shared goal that had so many individually complex tasks to it that all had to be somehow drawn together.
I asked the team members what they wanted to get out of this. I loved their answer. It's about learning some news skills, but mostly about meeting new people and making new friends. We never had the intention to win. It was always just being able to be part of it.
Check out our Australian team from Ulladulla High
House of Ulladulla Game of Drones on Faceboook
And a video on their journey Game of Drones
Check out all the awesome FIRST Robotics stuff on their website and
#omgrobots on Instagram!
@FIRSTweets on Twitter!
https://www.facebook.com/FIRSTOfficial/ on Faceboook