Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Robots

Teamwork at the beginning of the day.  Their posters behind
them go over their research project on dyslexia and grit
and robot design process/programming - they made all that.
Christmas has been a bit depressing this year with my FIL in hospital/rehab so having our robot kids around has been a godsend to divert our attention.

So my little team ran their 'little robot that could' over and over at the MA State championship a few days before Christmas.  Their results were stupendous - this contest is for kids 9 - 14 with 9 being a bit soft and we took advantage of that in the spring of 2013 to have the kids join their older siblings/friends to run to the National level.

Well, hanging out with the big guys and watching them for years really seems to pay dividends.  In what should have been their first year as a team - they won the 2nd place robot performance award for the second highest score out of 400+ teams.  My big team never cracked higher than #7 in performance.  They managed to improve their robot programming in the two weeks between contests and could hit 530 on a good day - 471 in competition.  They only lost out to the team they beat in the qualifier (a team of 14 yr olds) who also won the entire state and are on their way to the World competition.  In the afternoon while
About ready to run for their high score.  This is run with
16 tables inside a full college basketball court with flashing
lights, buzzers, thousands of spectators screaming and MCs
narrating on loud speakers - a dyslexic nightmare.
By the time the eliminations had started my guy was so sick
with a headache that he laid on the ground outside throwing up.
I was so proud of the team - he was the best driver and on two
of our driving teams and they took
over, mixed driving teams (they practiced choreography
for a month so they could be down to 12 sec total in
base to replace attachments) to replace him and
weren't fazed and went onto win the elimination
after six rounds.  I have emphasized GRIT all year
long as the most important life skill and they have
absorbed that in spades.  Bad run? Get back on that horse
and do it again and again until it is great.  Paid off.
the judges deliberate, a fun (and trophy winning) contest is held as a single round elimination - half the time and two teams join together to compete their robots, joining their score.  It is fast paced and really fun for the thousands who watch.  My little team won the whole elimination -- beating out that Worlds team in the finals.  The Worlds team is a great set of guys - we have been competing against them for years with the big team - lots of respect between them and us.  They won't be going on to the next level of robotics as their town doesn't do it -- so we were happy to see them get the big prize of the day.  Deserved it!

I am so happy to finally have two girls on my teams.
These girls are very smart and full of verve and grit!  I am so
looking forward to working with them for the next ten years
We were terribly excited to win two trophies as well as to score very high in the research side of the day.  The little team is at a huge disadvantage as being nine makes it pretty hard to answer questions as insightfully as they will in a few years - they often don't understand the point behind the question.  It wasn't until my other team were 11 that they even made it to the States.  When you realize that they are programming this robot to follow lines by doing math on the light sensor values, do boolean logic, and auto align itself over and over on tables that could be bigger or smaller than regulation - it is really amazing what they have done before they can even do long division!  My son told me yesterday that he found out he never learned how to multiply two digit numbers by two digit numbers in his old school (math was behind) and thus failed his homework last week in the new one (where math is accelerated).  But he can quickly write a master program to run all the separate programs automatically with all kinds of if-then loops  (Yet another reason why this contest should be required for all schools - what they learn in practical ways blows away curriculums).

When they finish building their team website and 'publishing' their research project - I will post it.
Two trophies!!  What a haul!
They came up with a comic book tool for dyslexic tutors to use with newly diagnosed dyslexic kids to help them understand they have strengths that balance out the reading difficulties - as self esteem is the biggest stumbling block for dyslexic kids to succeed.  They have endorsements from every major US dyslexic organization as well as orders in the hundreds for copies just from one.  Pretty cool for being so young.  One group tried out the comic with a set of students and they all cried - it resonated so much with the kids.  Our group has many dyslexics in it and so they just were able to articulate in a way that really connected kid-to-kid.

Normally this would be the end of robot season for me... back to embroidering.  But the big guys have my entire dinning room turned into a robot competition zone and have been programming/building non-stop as school is out.  I have no less than 4-9 of them in there everyday trying to get multiplexers, sensors, IR beacons, and 3-stage lifts and servos all to work seamlessly.  They go to early February at least unless they are lucky enough to move on.

A pair of digital glasses a MIT friend let me borrow from
a kickstarter campaign - they played "First Lego League"
across the grated lenses all day
Thank you to the lovely ladies on the East Coast Casket Tour - they made a lovely donation which was used to print the comic demo copies to send to dyslexic organizations as well as buy materials for the big team.  The big team just presented its outreach work to the MIT Edgerton center.  This center develops hands-on-STEM activities for kids and will be incorporating many that our team has developed in a national summer camp this year.  So your donations are having ripples to many, many kids!

Every year I have a theme for my teams - based upon what they need to learn and internalize to become great over the long haul.  This team needed to learn GRIT.  They are talented and have grit in other aspects of their life but hadn't all learned yet that they could apply it to academic areas.  Not a surprise as they all are square pegs in the round hole of school - very, very smart but don't fit the mould.  So while they might be the type that practices music or sports for hours a day to improve - they didn't see the translation to their challenges in the classroom where their learning style was different from the curriculums.  So we spent tons of time in discussion, practicing, watching Ted talks on grit, and taking the grit test.  We learned that you have to believe that you can improve to have grit in that area.  Very profound and the subject of their comic book.  I am thrilled to say that I saw the transformation and internalization of these lessons during the months I hammered on it.  You think you can't program as well as him?  Well, just get in front of that computer until you can.  We must have practiced their talks 30 times until they could smile at the judges, have it memorized and speak clearly and fit 20 slides in 5 min.  They are learning that 'being bad' at something isn't a pass out of it on my team.  It is a ticket to more practice towards mastery.

As they say in FIRST - "Its the Hardest Fun I've Ever Had"


  1. Oh Tricia, you're Awesome, and so is your family and The Team! Love the cute picture in the digital glasses! Looking forward to seeing their comic book!

  2. We're not worthy, we're not worthy! *on knees genuflecting* you must be exhaustedand very proud/happy!
    your kids are lucky to have a mommabear to push them to use thear grey matter!

  3. What a great group -- and hit a "home" note for me since they presented at the Edgerton center. My Dad worked at MIT with Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier when they founded EG&G -- and later moved to Las Vegas to work with EG&G at the Nevada Test Site. So The Edgerton name is a big part of my growing up!