Pictured: Team Northern Force from Gorham/Falmouth, with their robot Geffrey
Eight middle and high school teams from across the state assembled at the Capitol building on Wednesday morning to receive praise from their community leaders. The students were congratulated for their exceptional performances at FIRST competitions across the state and nation. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization that allows students to compete in science, technology, and engineering-based challenges. The high school teams at the Capitol competed in the FIRST Robotics Competitions in Maine. A few teams even represented the state at the World Championship in Detroit, Michigan earlier this spring, where there were over 3,000 teams present from countries all across the world. The World Championship can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLmn5CbNr3Y
These precocious high schoolers were asked to design robots that could compete in a game requiring multiple complicated maneuvers. Robots must be piloted blind for several minutes at the beginning of each competition. Each team chose a different way to overcome this challenge, many opting for robot-mounted cameras. Next, each team had to pickup and carefully drop large dodgeballs in holes cut into a model rocket and space station, for points. In the course of the competition robots had to move up and down over physical obstacles, and place Velcro covers over the holes.
Students were excited to share their experiences at the FIRST meets. Tasked with building and programming the robots, the students learned valuable skills like digital modeling, 3D printing, coding, wiring, and engineering. Because they were asked to design the robots themselves, students also worked on interpersonal, leadership, and problem solving skills. One student, a freshman at Cheverus, is already reaping the rewards of coding know-how. Members of his school’s coding club saw him working on Java Script in the library, they were so impressed he was invited to join.
However, many of the teams were comprised of more than their building team, one student explained that although there were ten students involved in the construction of the robot, their total headcount was around twenty-five students, with the rest heavily involved in fundraising, advertising, and outreach. Students involved in this process not only picked up important communication skills and experience, but learned how to market their club and raise money for competitions. Students also have the opportunity to meet and interact with peers who have similar interests from across the country, with one young engineer commenting that they had made and kept friends from Tennessee and Australia.
FIRST strives to promote STEAM engagement among young students as well, inspiring growth of the field for the future. They include Robotics Competitions such as the ones in which these students competed, as well as a separate LEGO League for ages 9 to 14, from which some students were also in attendance. The organization prioritizes the involvement of underrepresented, underserved, and vulnerable youths. Of all students involved in FIRST, 43% are female; 72% are from economically disadvantaged families; over half of all students are from ethnic minorities. 87% of participants in the program go on to take more advanced math and science courses; students who competed were also more than twice as likely as others to show increased interest in pursuing STEAM fields.
Students shared overwhelmingly positive remarks about their experiences, and showed great passion for their robots and the competitions. Many were only Freshmen, and all expressed that they intend to continue participating in competitions and to pursue STEAM fields in their future. FIRST competitions provide a great opportunity to middle and high school students who are looking to get hands-on experience with a wide array of skills before they even graduate. Interested readers can visit www.firstinspires.org to get involved and learn how to help aspiring scientists and engineers pursue their passions, by investing in our future.