ECC Robotics Program
ECC Robotics has been building robots and competing in FIRST Lego League since 2009. FIRST is an international organization that guides youth through STEM learning and exploration at an early age. It was founded in 1998 and now hosts competitive events and has participants in over 110 countries. You can learn more about at FIRST on its website (https://www.firstlegoleague.org/). Or you can watch the fun introductory video below.
Season and Expectations
The FIRST Challenge series is for kids ages 9 through 13, 4th through 8th grade. The ECC robotics team is primarily composed of students between grades 4-6, but recently has been accepting students who graduated from ECC that are in 7th or 8th grade that still want to participate.
The Robotics season runs from August through December. As part of the program students will get a summer tutorial on building and coding robots to prepare them for the start. No prior experience is necessary to participate. From August through November the teams will meet weekly to build and code a robot preparing for a local competitive qualifying event in November. If the team does well they can continue to advance through the regional qualifiers and compete into December.
Competing in robotics has 4 main parts. At the qualifying competitions the teams are scored and judged on the following categories.
1) Core Values - Coopetition, team spirit, costumes, and teamwork
2) Robot Game - Points scored in the robot game
3) Innovation Project - Project presentation and Q&A
4) Robot Design - Robot structure and scientific method to get to design and success
Each year there is a new theme for the Robot Game and Innovation Project. It can be anything. Past examples include clean energy, sustainability, health and wellness, and art and music. During the season the kids will be thinking about how technology influences different aspects of our lives, the community, and the planet. The latest season theme teaser video can be seen below.
Each team will be 4 to 8 students and will establish the schedule that works best for the participants. Most teams will meet twice a week for 1 to 2 hours. And then as competitions approach it's normal to have additional sessions to finalize preparations for the qualifier. In those sessions you will be running the robot game, finishing presentation materials, and practicing the presentations. Preparing for a qualifier takes a lot of work so it's important your child will be able to attend weekly meetings and contribute. The teams are small so the work can be overwhelming if the whole team doesn't help out. In general, Robotics is a substantial time commitment and the Fall is busy with many activities, so be cautious of overscheduling.
What exactly will they be doing?
The Robotics season is meant to introduce kids to STEM and foster an atmosphere of teamwork, inclusivity, and creativity. As a result the Core Values of FIRST is a critical component. The Core Values requires the team to demonstrate they worked as a team, understand how to resolve conflicting decisions, and that they can have fun while learning. At the competition they will have to prepare for a Q&A focused specifically on their teamwork and they will need to demonstrate the Core Values at the competition. Every year teams make costumes or t-shirts typically with a custom logo to show their team spirit.
The Robot Game is a table top setup that includes various LEGO assemblies. The kids will build the LEGO assemblies, arguably their favorite part of the season, and then code a robot built from LEGOs using LEGO Spike Prime. The table setup and layout changes every year. Spike Prime coding is block coding by default however it has the option to be programmed using Python. At the elementary school ages we typically use block coding. The robots are autonomous and not remote controlled. Their goal is to code the robot to autonomously move around the table and interact with the LEGO assemblies. Examples could include moving an object into a circle, flipping a switch, or depositing an object into a container.
For the Innovation Project the team will need to prepare a presentation that is given to a panel of judges. The project idea must be related to the Season's theme. The participants will have to come up with an innovative idea that benefits individuals, the community, or the planet and then research, document the process of choosing their idea, possibly draw or make a prototype, and then present it. The Innovation Project serves a few main purposes for the Season including getting kids thinking about technology and its impact on our lives, collaborating and brainstorming, narrowing ideas, making tradeoffs, and then assigning roles to complete a project as a team. It's as much about the idea as it is about the process and teamwork. Each team is encouraged to speak with outside experts to help them refine and make their idea better.
For the Robot Design they will present their robot, how it works, what makes it unique and then describe the process of making the robot and code better throughout the season. The team is meant to be creative in how they build and construct the robot, but also be able to document and showcase the lessons learned during the season and the changes they made to overcome those obstacles. Examples can include showing how their code changed to make a Robot Game mission more reliable or they added a new motor to the robot to be able to complete a specific mission. It's a combination of creative design, problem solving, and then communicating what and how they learned over the season to incrementally improve the design.
Overall the program is a great way to introduce your child to Robotics and STEM in a fun environment. It pushes kids to work as a team, collaborate, and creates close knit friendships.