Monday, October 7, 2013

Robots "Warm Up" at UCHS

The gymnasium at University City High School buzzed with excitement Saturday morning October 5th, as 22 registered elementary and middle school robotics teams from across the area converged for the fourth annual U. City FLL Warm Up (formerly the "U. City Scramble").  FLL, which stands for FIRST LEGO League, is a component of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics program started by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. (Click here to read about our high school's FIRST Robotics Competition team). 

Teams crowd around the tables in the UCHS gymnasium
to observe practice matches.

In FLL, small teams of students aged 9 to 14 design, build, program, and test robots made from LEGO MINDSTORMS technology. At the beginning of each season (which lasts approximately 3 months) teams are issued a challenge with a series of obstacles that their robots must overcome, and research project ot complete and present. The 2013 challenge is called Nature's Fury, and  explores natural disasters and how technology can help us to prepare, stay safe, and rebuild.

At this year's Warm Up, teams had the opportunity to put their robots through their paces in the robot game, meet other teams and see their robots, and get a feel for what an actual competition might be like.  In addition, teams could meet with a panel of experts from the Red Cross and Washington University to ask questions and get help on this year's project.  Students and staff from Ranken Technical College were also on hand to provide programming assistance to the teams. 

A team from Flynn Park listens to a referee explain one of the
many "missions" they can complete in the robot game.

This event is typically the first chance the officials and referees have to see the robot game in action, and is used as a training event for them as well. One of the founding tenants of FIRST is the concept of Gracious Professionalism, which means that teams can compete fiercely but still treat each other with respect and kindness and help everyone to achieve their best game. The Warm Up is a great example of this in action, as teams learn from and help one another. 

Of the 22 teams participating this year, five were from University City schools,  including Flynn Park, Jackson Park, Barbara C. Jordan, and Brittany Woods Middle. Members of the UCHS Robolions FRC team assisted and served as referees. University City is proud to be one of the only local districts to have robotics teams at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. 

The "pit" areas are a hive of activity, as teams tweak and
troubleshoot their robots

In the weeks to come, teams will continue to hone their robots, research their project, and prepare presentations.  The competition season kicks off on October 26th with the first in a series of ten qualifiers, two of which will be held at Brittany Woods Middle School on November 9th and 10th.  The top teams from each qualifier will then go on to compete in the Eastern Missouri FLL Championship at Florissant Valley Community College on December 8th.  The winner of that event has the chance to compete against teams from around the world  in the FIRST World Championship, held April 23 - 26, 2014, at the America's Center right here in St. Louis!  For details and qualifier schedules visit the St. Louis FIRST website.

The Warm Up, brainchild of U. City parents Nicole Adewale, Celina McGinnis, and Ed Deitzler, has grown steadily since its inception in 2010.  The event started as a way to, "pull together resources to help University City's FLL teams prepare for the official qualifying events" says Adewale (UCHS Class of 1986), "but from the beginning we (and Superintendent Pruitt) felt it was important to share our resources with other teams in the area, which would in turn allow us to learn from other teams.  What we originally envisioned as an extended practice event has turned out to be a premier technical conference for elementary and middle school students and has also become a major training opportunity for referees."

The sponsoring organization for the Warm Up was U.City Robotics, founded by parents several years ago to promote FIRST programs in University City and introduce our students to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields through the excitement of competitive robotics. Kids who participate in FIRST are significantly more likely to attend college and major in science or engineering (in fact, all seven 2013 graduating seniors from the high school's robotics team, many of whom began robotics in middle school, are currently majoring in science or engineering.)

U. City Robotics is grateful to the Deitzler, McGinnis, Holahan and Adewale families for organizing and setting up the event and to members of the St. Louis FIRST Robotics FLL committee, Ranken, Wash U., Edwardsville Robotics, and the Red Cross for supplying nearly 30 volunteers who provided a stellar opportunity to the teams who participated.

All photos courtesy of Celina McGinnis

1 comment:

  1. Good to read about the continuation of Robotics in UCity schools! As a member of the high school team for four years I can definitely say that participating in FIRST heavily influenced my decision to attend college for STEM (I'm a Biology major.) It's really an inspiring and amazing program and I'm glad that it's continuing to inspire kids in UCity schools.