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Friday, September 13, 2013

FTC and FLL Expansion

This is going to be a long post. You've been warned.

But it's big FRC Team 3313 news so if you're interested, keep reading.

The past couple days have been a whirlwind of awesome activity. The point of this post is to give some updates on where the future of our Alexandria Robotics Program is going and why we chose that direction. Basically, our future is expanding into FTC (middle school) and FLL (elementary school). 

  • FIRST Tech Challenge - Grades 7-12. Students build robots that have an 18" by 18" footprint out of prefab or fabricated parts. There are 4 robots on a field at once and teams compete in one day long tournaments. Teams can also make Engineering Notebooks and present to judges to win awards. This year's game is called "Block Party". We suggest you watch the game video at this link.
  • FIRST Lego League - Grades 4-8. Students build robots out of legos to compete in a themed competition. There is one robot on a field at a time and the robot is completely pre-programmed. This year's theme is Nature's Fury. All of the tasks the robot has to complete are nature related. Teams also make projects to present to judges about how nature effects people. Read about this year's game and rules here.
Let's rewind a tiny bit. 

Last spring, our wonderful Chairman's Team presented about our awesome team. Unfortunately, one of our main shortcomings was that we did not have more of a spectrum of FIRST programs. The judges did not specifically call this out but it was a major difference we noticed between ourselves and other teams. Besides, getting kids interested in STEM and Robotics at an earlier age is an AWESOME THING to do!! And, it was fairly obvious to us that FLL and FTC are the evolution of our program. 

We had our bimonthly meeting in June with one of our sponsors, the PMMC (Aagard, ITW Heartland, Massman, Douglas Machine, Alex Tech, and the AAEDC), and we told them how we planned to create some FLL teams in our area. They loved the idea so much they decided to sponsor the creation of these teams by giving us $2000. 

Flash forward to this past week. We had our first meeting of the year and started researching FLL. It turns out that we needed to have teams registered by September 18! WOAH! We were under the impression that we would have time this fall to drum up support and do some organizing. Turns out, we didn't. 

So we changed plans a little bit. We have decided to create one FLL team with a team member's sister and some of her friends (easy to organize and keep track of them for our first year helping). We would also create one FTC team primarily for middle schoolers (new 10th graders could be on it as well). Our high school team members could be mentors and help out with both new teams while also doing the work that FRC requires. 

There are other advantages as well. 
  • The FLL and FTC seasons are primarily in the fall and early winter (competitions for both occur in November and December) so our FRC build season would not be directly affected. 
  • These programs will grab students when they are younger and not in other activities. 
  • These students will be much more prepared and ready for the FRC level if they chose to follow the program through. 
  • The whole idea of FIRST is to make science cool and expose more people to engineering. I feel we are absolutely doing that with these 2 programs.
Primarily though, these programs are super fun and a great experience for students, families, and mentors! 

The budgest for both teams are independent of our FRC budget and are funded completely by the PMMC donation and team member payments. Ideally, a parent would step forward to help run the FLL team and take care of travel. Bydlon, along with FRC team members, will run the FTC for the present, however, we would love help in that regard too.

Below is our initial idea for an FTC logo, color scheme, and team name. All of these can be changed later on by the 7-9 graders we hope to have on the team. It looks pretty sweet though...

Our FRC team is full of wonderful people with great attitudes. This process will be stressful and difficult at times but  for this year, and the future, this program of robotics in Alexandria will be awesome. We will lean on each other for help when we need it and be allowed to back off to prevent burn out as well. 

We are all so excited!

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