Sunday, March 25, 2007

FIRST San Diego 2007

Thursday March 22, 2007 – San Diego

We left Carl Hayden High School at midnight and drove a dozen girls, Fredi, Jim Haugen and my self along with my wife and mentors Jerry and Karen and arrived at the Ipayone Sports Center at 8 am as the doors opened to let teams in to unpack their robots.

This is the first time we have fielded an “all girls” team and the women are taking charge! Angelica is the driver with Yvette the copilot. Cynthia is the human player on the field and Karen is the coach and forth member on the field.

While there are only four team members on the field, ther rest of the team are assigned pit boss, safety officer, power woman (battery management), electrical repairs, mechanical systems, scouting, strategy, etc. They will all be very busy the next two days.

During robot inspection, one inspector spent a lot of time quizzing the girls and “teaching them”. Fredi was going nuts! “We have never had anyone lecture like that before! The guy is just showing off for the girls. Why doesn’t he inspect the robot and let us fix any deficiencies?” I keep catching myself saying “the Carl Hayden girls team” instead of the Carl Hayden team. This is going to be quite a weekend of the subtle sexism that makes it so hard for some women to feel comfortable in the engineering fields.

We ate dinner at the hotel’s IHOP. Haven’t had time for the beach yet, maybe this evening.

Fredi posted pictures at

Friday March 23, 2007 – San Diego

We won two matches and lost six. There will be 3 more seeding matches tomorrow. Around noon, the top 8 seeded teams will pick two other teams to form 8 3-robot alliances. So our only hope to be in the quarter finals is to be picked by another team. So our strategy for tomorrow is to do what we do best – defense. Hopefully, we will be noticed by a team looking to shut down their opposition and will pick the gutsy Falcon team.

Mary Steward is a lady who lives in L.A. and drove down with a friend and young son to meet us. She watched a few matches, including one where our driver, Angelica, was pretty much responsible for the win. Then she spent a lot of time talking to the students in the pit area. Our sophomore girls wanted to know how we knew her and I told them about these emails and that there are a lot of people following their journey. They are amazed that total strangers are interested in them.

Dayna Steele, who is a friend of ours in Texas, has a web site “Smart Girls Rock – because the future has curves” and I’ve been honored as an Honorary Smart Girl. Hmmmm?

I think the experiment of leaving the boys at school is producing some positive results. The girls have stepped up and were working on repairs, driving, scouting, talking to the judges and are becoming a cohesive team. While they lack experience in some of the skills, I think they are ready to be more assertive and will be challenging the boys for more active positions on the team. We’ll see next week when we compete in Las Vegas.

This evening the FIRST team social was at the Space and Aeronautics museum. My cousin met us there and we gawked and talked and had a great time.

As we were leaving, Marina, one of the girls who wrote the Chairman’s entry, and is a senior said, “I’m going to miss this.” I started in on how she can get involved in projects in college that are just as exciting if she throws herself into it with as much enthusiasm as…” and she interrupted me and said, “No. I’ll miss all you guys.” So here is a young lady who came from Mexico, learned English, does very well in high school, mentors at the junior high school, joins the robotics team, contributes to the region’s championship essay, has been accepted into ASU’s Engineering College and credits the people she has met with her good fortune. The FIRST program has done a lot for our kids.

We still haven’t gone to the beach. We plan on stopping tomorrow when the San Diego FIRST Regional concludes and watch the sun set and have a seafood dinner.

Day two pictures at

Sunday, March 25, 2007 – Phoenix, AZ

The Falcon Robotics “Chicas – Leave the Boys at Home” tour is over. It was an experience none of us will ever forget.

We knew going into Saturday’s matches, that with 2 wins and 5 loses, that even if we won the remaining three matches, we would probably not be picked by one of the top eight teams to be in their three-team alliance. So we changed our goals to playing defense. Even if we lose, if we can keep the opponents score low, we will demonstrate our value to the choosing teams.

The driving team, coach Karen, Angelica, Cynthia, and Yvette had a fantastic time! They were relaxed and effective. They our ran, out pushed, and in one match, toppled another robot. Our robot, “Little Jerry”, was built strong and fast. We were playing “our game”. The women now had battle driving experience and were cool and relaxed – and happy, even though our opponents out scored us. As a result, we had to pack up after the seeding matches, but the day was a very positive one for us.

We went to Mission Bay beach about 4 pm. Half of the girls had never seen the ocean before. We parked, walked to the strand, took off our shoes and socks and walked doing to the water. (“Oh, the sand feels so soft.”) You know how it goes: first just the toes, then just up to the rolled up cuffs, then, oops now that the cuffs are wet, just go in as far as the knees… until they are completely soaked, teasing the breakers and laughing, screaming and hanging on to each other as kids have been doing for 10s of thousands of years.

My wife Deb brought kites and bubble makers. We were all little kids again. Karen, inventor and engineer, is redesigning the “fish kite” to make it fly better. Fredi and I are snapping pictures, and the kids are having an afternoon they will never forget. Someday they will bring their children to the beach and I bet they will tell them the story of this day.

Fredi’s pictures:

We ate at Joe’s Crab Shack and then hopped into the vans for the return trip. Fredi and fellow teacher, Jim, had to drive the whole way without relief. We stopped for a half hour nap and arrived at Carl Hayden at 6 am.

Overall, a most successful experiment. We worked on the robot and made many improvements on it. The girls’ skills have made a quantitative leap. During the whole weekend there is a lot of talking, (“How did you meet your spouse?” “What was the hardest part about going to college”. “How did you know what your major was going to be?”) You can see the ladies trying on different possible roles. They are changing their cultural expectations. I don’t think they will settle for doing what is expected of them. We’ll see.

Late next Wednesday night, we take the coed team to the Las Vegas FIRST regional. The boys graciously acquiesced to standing down this weekend, but the Las Vegas will be our last chance to prepare for the International Championship in Atlanta and we have a far stronger robot and team.

Monday, March 05, 2007

FIRST Arizona 2007

March 5, 2007 - Carl Hayden High School

Although it’s been seven months since we have sent out an “update”, we have been busy. The kids on the robotics team coached almost a dozen elementary and junior high school Lego Robotics teams and hosted the Arizona FIRST Lego Robotics Competition in December. Seventy teams and even the Governor attended. They also held a VEX robotics competition for high schools in the state. Promoting science, technology and engineering activities – thats what they do.

This year’s FIRST Robotics competition was unveiled January 6th. We had six weeks to build this year’s robot for the Rack and Roll game. We won’t see our robot “Little Jerry: until this Thursday, Practice and Inspection day, at the Veteran’s Coliseum in Phoenix Arizona. Friday and Saturday, March 9th and 10th, we compete with 33 other high school teams in the state’s biggest, most exciting display of teenage determination, innovation, and positive gracious professionalism/

This year we have made an organized effort to invite lawmakers to attend. Over a dozen legislators are expected to show up this week to see what all the excitement is about. The Falcons have learned how to apply their civics lessons into civic action. That’s what I love about the Robotics Club: It’s real, applied education that is really having a profound effect, not only on the students, but on our culture.

While we hope to do very well in the competition, but the real recognition the kids seek is the Chairman’s Award:

FIRST’s most prestigious award, it honors the team judged to have created the best partnership effort among team participants, and to have best exemplified the true meaning of FIRST. The award helps keep the central focus of the FIRST Robotics Competition on the goal of inspiring greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology.”

Part of the submission process is a 10,000 character paper describing the robotics program’s impact on students and culture. The submission can be read at:

I’m really proud to be a part of their lives. They really get “the big picture”. Here are young people who are libel “disadvantaged” teaching the rest of us how rich they are and trying to spur the educational system to support extracurricular academic activities on par with the extracurricular entertainment activities.

After the Arizona competition, thanks to financial support from the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, Honeywell, Intel, Wells Fargo, Phelps Dodge and a dozen small community businesses, we will also be competing at:

March 22-24: San Diego
March 29-31: Las Vegas

April 12-14: Atlanta (Championship)

The San Diego date will be unusual. Since girls seem to shy away (or is it pushed away?) from the physical building of the robot, this year we will be taking just the female roboteers to the California event. Fredi and I will just be “bumps on a log” while Karen, our physicist mentor, and my wife assume the adult leadership.

All of these events are free to the public and we would love to meet our supporters, if you are I the area on those dates.

For all those who rooted for the four boys in Wired Magazine “La Vida Robot”:

Oscar is a junior at ASU studying mechanical engineering (also president and wheeler-dealer for the university’s underwater ROV team); Luis is becoming a Cordon Bleu chef at Scottsdale Culinary Arts school; Cristian is a freshman at ASU’s engineering college; and Lorenzo is a freshman at Phoenix Community College.

Over the next few weeks, we will try to send updates on this year’s competitions and some of the stories about some of the kids.

Phoenix – March 9, 2007, 3:45 a.m.

The Falcon Robotics team spent yesterday at the Coliseum tweaking our robot, Jerry, going through the inspection process and getting in a few practice matches. We are ready.

This year, the team members wrote emails and letters to every one of our state and federal legislators inviting them to attend the competition. We really believe that the FIRST engineering competitions are so important that decision makers need to see what can be done to improve the technical competency of our culture.

Our favorite city councilman and long time booster, showed up at 10 am. He is leaving for Washington and could only come on Thursday. Just as we shake hands, my cell phone rings. It’s the local ABC station and they want to do an early morning live remote.

Marina is a senior and on the Chairman’s subcommittee (she was one of the writers for our submission: She took over escorting Councilman Simplot, touring the pit area and introducing him to other teams and officials and watching a practice match. By the time I was finished running around, it was time for Tom to leave. I apologized for ditching him like that, but he had a better time with knowledgeable Marina than he would have had with me. You know, it is true. Marina is a very intelligent, personable young lady. She just recently decided to switch her college plans from sociology to engineering because she enjoys the projects so much and the future employment prospects seem much better. She may still become a social worker, but with an engineering background. Exposing young people to the creative, fun, time consuming side of science, math and engineering really opens their eyes!

I’ll add to this later. Fredi Lajvardi, Marina, Daniel, Cynthia, Will, Adam, Yvette, Marcos and Pablo have to be on the field at 5 a.m. for the TV crew. The rest of our team arrives at 8 and then the competitions begin.

Same day – 8:00 p.m.

What a day! We won four matches, lost one and tied one! We are in third place. We will play two more matches tomorrow morning and then the quarter finals – semi finals and AZ championship rounds will be placed.

At the last minute, the NASA web site webcast the Phoenix games live. They will be live Saturday also:

Scroll down to Phoenix

Daniel (our club president and junior), Angelica (VP and senior) and Cynthia (senior) gave our Chairman’s award to the judges today. They felt they did very well (no observers allowed) and I know they did their best. They have been practicing almost non stop for the last two weeks.

We were visited by a few state legislators and several TV stations. Daniel looks into the camera and can roll out a sound bite with the best of them. So can Angelica, but she can carry the message in Spanish. They kids are becoming real PR pros. They are so natural and well spoken, it even impresses me. These are the same kids, who a few months ago, would have done anything to avoid public speaking.

We have had a few minor problems with the robot, but a few minutes in the pit is all it takes to get it ready for the next match. Our robot is named Jerry in honor of our mentor Jerry Little who, with his wife, Karen, woks with us on Mondays. If you see the NASA video, Jerry is also the adult competition coach on the field. Anyway, when the announcers introduce the team at the beginning of the match, our kids in the stands start chanting “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…” and, of course everyone else thinks they are cheering the robot. They are cheering Jerry the man. The kids really love the guy. One of the greatest strengths of the FIRST robotics program is mixing caring, intelligent, professional adults with students. They don’t “teach”; they work with them. They become the role models that most kids never really see or experience.

We are hoping for the best tomorrow.

Phoenix - March 10, 2007

They did it! Once again, the kids were awarded the Arizona FIRST Chairman Award. This means we will be in the running for the National Chairman award in Atlanta in April.

Our robot won the two matches in this morning’s seeding matches and we were ranked third which meant we had third pick for our ally in the championship rounds. We picked the team from Buena Vista High School in Sierra Vista, AZ. We helped them a bit last year when they first started. After all the other teams picked, we were able to select the third team that would form our alliance.

Long story short: we won our quarter finals and our semi finals and we lasted until a tie-breaker round in the final match and when came up short. Our alliance came in second over all, which is higher than we have ever ended in a FIRST competition. The kids were a little disappointed, but not too much. When we were announced as the Chairman’s winner, there were quite a few tears of joy being shed.

A neat memory from this weekend:

Yesterday afternoon, during matches, I was sitting in the stands where our team and some of their family members were watching the matches. In came a group of kids wearing tank top undershirts and looking kind of unkempt. I’m thinking that maybe I should have announced at school that there is a “dress code” at the competition. Then I recognized that the kids were the Carl Hayden cross county team. They ran the five miles from school, sat and watched a couple of matches, including one of ours, then trotted off to return to campus! Ahh, that’s evidence of “changing the culture.”

Monday, Fredi and I and some of the kids will be at Arizona State University as keynote speakers for the Microcomputer in Education Conference.

While on spring break, the girls on our team are preparing for the San Diego FIRST regional. Angelica asked if we would have time to stop at the beach. She has never seen the ocean. A lot of the girls haven’t seen the ocean. There will be time.

Once again, thank you everyone.