In my post about our little robotics team, and our experience with VEX robotics, I promised that I would give a review of FIRST robotics. Well, the dust has settled and the verdict is in: WE LOVED IT! You will love it too, and that it why I'm sharing it with you today.
What is FIRST robotics? It is one of two major robotics programs for school aged children (VEX is the other brand). FIRST has something for every child, from kindergartners to high school seniors. You can go to firstinspires.org for more information, but I'll give you the basics below. (Bear with me-- there's a lot to go over, but I'll try to keep it succinct.)
The bottom line is: We love FIRST, and will never switch back to VEX (sorry/not sorry!)
First of all, there are several leagues based on age, that vary in complexity. You can learn more on their website, but in this article, I'll just share our experience in the two leagues that we participated in.
Overall Experience with FIRST Robotics
We LOVED FIRST, and we will never go back to the other brand we used before. Here's why:
As I said, we participated in two leagues: The Lego League and FIRST Tech Challenge. Our middle school team qualified at regionals and went to the state competition, winning the teamwork award there. Our high school team qualified regionals, state, and went to the Super Regional competition in Spokane, WA. It was an amazing experience.
Overview of FIRST Lego League
Lego League is for kids ages 9-14. Using an education-specific EV3 Lego kit, the kids build and program a robot to complete a very specific set of tasks. They use block programming, which is easy to learn, but sets them up to learn more rigorous programming in the future.
This isn't a cake walk, however. The kids have to measure and input every angle, individual wheel speed, and every distance. They develop detachable arms to help them with various tasks. These kids learn a lot. They also speak with judges and explain why they made the robot and programming the way they did.
Not only that, but part of the competition is researching a real world problem and designing solution for it. Last year, we learned about hydrodynamics. This year, it is space. We research, speak with professionals and try to develop something new. Some teams even apply for patents.
Lastly, the kids are also judged on their team work. This is where our team shone. We had a great group of kids, and the judges could tell!
Pros for Lego League
Cons for Lego League
These are my cute "Lego Lords". They were a super fun group.
Overview of FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC)
In the high school division, students build a robot, program it, and also drive it. ANY materials can be used, which is awesome sauce. Although a parts kit is available, anything from the hardware store to the junkyard is allowed. This fosters true creativity, gives more options and you can also get higher quality parts. 3D design and printing is also allowed-- letting kids learn yet another practical skill set.
Programming can be done either in block programming, or in Java-- say hello to being prepared for the future job market! This programming is pret-ty intense. These kids are brilliant. I sat in on a workshop where one team was explaining an advanced programming technique to get a camera to scan an image, and then act according to which image it viewed. I didn't understand a word. I was googling everything I heard coming out of that 17 year old's mouth, and Google didn't even understand them. These kids are employable NOW.
An engineering notebook is also kept, which teaches technical writing, keeps track of the engineering process and successes and failures. It's really impressive to see the process these teams go through as they develop their machines. They are using real world techniques, software and research.
Our kids are helping with fundraising, service projects and community outreach, all while practicing public speaking, leadership and collaboration. It truly is an all around win- even before you throw in all the scholarship opportunities!
Our high school "Juggerbot" team.
All in all, this program has been literally life changing for some kids. In some towns (like mine), sports is the only thing available and "cool" for kids to do. I really love that we have created another option. The confidence building, the real life skills being taught, the scholarships won . . . I can't say enough good about this. If you are interested, learn more at firstinspires.org.
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