Whew! It's over.
Our homeschool inaugural robotics season has come to a close. We held our ending celebration last night and took inventory of the year. And we decided it was good. Really good.
We are going to make some changes, but we started with two clueless moms, one experienced college student and 10 kids- and finished with placing in the state competition with our middle school team. We had a near miss (that was contested) for the regional championship with our high school team, so we are pretty pleased. The kids have learned engineering, programming, teamwork, sportsmanship and much, much more.
Oh, and did I mention that they are eligible for 54.5 million dollars in scholarships?
This opportunity is open to every school, homeschool and community group out there. Read on to find out more!
Many people are worried about the future job market, and rightly so. Jobs are disappearing, being outsourced or mechanized. I hear a lot of people complaining about it, but I prefer to look ahead of the curve and be prepared for it. And my friend Heather opened up a wonderful door for my family to help us do that.
Heather is Homeschool Mom Extraordinaire. I would tell you about how A.MA.ZING she is and post her picture, but she would get embarrassed and then get mad at me.
Heather decided she wanted to start a homeschool robotics team. Because we homeschool (at least in our area), we are not able to join a public school team. Heather has a son who is extremely interested in engineering, so she thought a robotics team would be a great way to help him and other kids in the area as well. I was also interested in it and volunteered to help her get it off the ground.
I'm not going to lie. It is a BIG learning curve if you are not naturally inclined or interested in this field. It takes a lot of time- the season is pretty much the entire school year. But the kids loved it. They learned a lot and had a lot of fun. They got distracted a lot. Some of them didn't follow through and some of them kept breaking things. But in the end, it was great.
Here is the breakdown of what we learned if you are interested in starting your own team. This will be a long post, but you'll have the basics down by the end.
There are pretty much just two companies who do school age robotics: VEX and FIRST. We did VEX this year, but are going to switch to FIRST next year, for reasons I will describe later.
Here's the low down on VEX:
VEX is the company that is used in our area the most, so naturally, we decided to go with VEX this year. You can learn more at www.vexrobotics.com/. There are two robots for VEX depending on the age you are working with.
Each year, there is a different challenge or task that the team designs the robot for. The group designs the robot to perform specific tasks that earn points in the challenge. The kids program the robot to score points on it's own (that is called the autonomous program) and they also earn points in a driver controlled competition. Cooperation is encouraged, as two teams work together to earn points in each match. There are also other ways to advance your team and gain recognition if engineering and programming aren't your thing:
The IQ robot is for elementary and middle schoolers. It is made up of plastic pieces that snap together and has a programmable robot brain and a controller. My son Gideon LOVED that he could drive it using a controller similar to an X-box controller. (Those begged hours of video game time came in handy as he was one of our best drivers!) Kaitlyn, a reluctant team member at first, made a killer Engineering Notebook that won us the Design Award and took us to the state competition. At state, we saw a lot of fun and different designs that gave us all sorts of new ideas. We came in 5th due to our great drivers and awesome pit crew. They are a great bunch of kids.
The EDR robot is for high schoolers. It is made of metal parts, has servos, a winch system, and other fun add-ons. It is definitely a more advanced robot. It was a big challenge, but the kids pulled through. My daughter Katie did a great job on the Engineering Notebook as well- winning two trophies for it a two different events. This robot is also programmable and has an autonomous competition and a driver controlled competition as well.
VEX has competitions from regional all the way to world. You buy the robot kit, register your team and you are good to go.
What we learned:
Here is what we know about FIRST:
In all fairness, I have not used this program yet. But I know a team who does and this is based on their feedback. I will write my own review at the end of next year, but here are the basics for those who are investigating programs. You can learn more at www.firstinspires.org.
FIRST is very comparable to VEX. (They originated from the same mother company.) They also have research project and a challenge to complete that earns you points, but they have partnered with LEGO to make the beginning process more user friendly for younger kids. Here is the breakdown of their different leagues:
Lego League Jr.:
We are going to try FIRST next year. Our friends who do FIRST honestly don't have a bad thing to say about it, whereas we were often frustrated with VEX. That said, we still had a terrific year and would do it again in a heart beat. The deciding point for me however, was when their team coach told us that 100% of their graduating, college-bound seniors each got $50,000 in scholarships through this program. That blew my mind.
So there you have it- robotics in a nutshell. We love it. It is hard and frustrating sometimes, but we are so glad we have had this experience. Even if you do not have children who naturally gravitate to this field, I still think it has something for everyone and it is worth doing.
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