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.


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