Mentoring my son FIRST Robotics team was a learning experience for all!

odonnelMy son, Johnathan, is a senior at Avon Lake High School, and a founding member of the school’s new Robotics Club. For the club’s first project, he and his friends decided to enter the Buckeye Regional FIRST Robotics Competition which will be held March 22-24, 2012 at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center in downtown Cleveland.

This is the first time Avon Lake HS has ever entered such a competition and they’ll be going up against 60 high school teams from Ohio, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada.

So how could I help but volunteer to be one of the mentors for the team?! It turned out to be an amazing experience for me and the kids.

“At first, I thought there might be only eight people interested in joining the team,” Johnathan says. “Instead, at our first meeting, 30 students showed up! So instead of working just as a designer, I spent a lot more time learning about organizing and managing the team.”


Avon Lake High School Robotics Club 2012 — The Shorebots


Our team (FIRST Team 4142, aka “The ShoreBots“) had its kick-off meeting on January 7, 2012, when this year’s competition challenge, “Rebound Rumble,” was revealed. During each 2-minute, 15-second match, teams of robots will tryshorebots_logo_200p - Copy 1 to score as many baskets as possible AND finish the match balanced upright on a narrow bridge. Check out the animated video demonstration on YouTube.

Since our team is a “rookie” team in its first year, we had some specific goals to fulfill:

1. Build a functional robot, and compete in the regional competition;
2. Let students lead, make decisions, and have fun;
3. Engage mentors and the community through their time, advice and fundraising; and
4. Attract underclassmen to the team to lead the team next year and the future

Our team was both excited and apprehensive because they had to design, build and test their robot by the February 21 deadline–only about 6 and a half weeks.

I think our team’s strengths were flexibility and perseverance. An example of flexibility was when they developed two prototypes for the ball launcher: a catapult and a wheeled shooter. After testing both, the team selected the shooter. After the decision was taken, the kids quickly regrouped and carried on without any hard feelings. Here’s some great video of the team testing out the shooter. The Lorain Morning Journal also published a feature article about the team, including a video.

The team normally worked in the school’s shop each day after school. During the last two weeks of the build, they needed extra time, and found new areas to work at night and weekends: team member’s garages, local industry sponsors, recreation centers and even here at MAGNET’s Manufacturing Innovation Center (MIC). That particular Saturday, we crossed paths with another area team, the East Tech FIRST Robotics Team 120, The Scarabian Knights, who had been using a workshop at the MIC for the entire build. They’ve been entering this contest every year since 1994! Check out this photo gallery of their 2012 build. And here’s a June 2011 feature article by The Call and Post about the 2011 East Tech Team.

Back to the ShoreBots: our robot was designed to be:

1. rugged;
2. play good defense using high torque drive wheels; and
3. a consistent shooter using a wheeled shooting device with high backspin on the ball to drive the ball off the backboard into the hoop.

Here’s some super video of The ShoreBots’ finished product, “Mr. Roboto”:


Working as a team gave the students the opportunity to learn how to work together, applying both their technical skills and leadership to achieve a common goal. They learned how to adjust their designs so they were practical to make with the equipment in the shop.

Team Coach Justin Lestock and I learned first-hand how great an impact FIRST had on our student team members, encouraging their interests and developing their skills in science, technology and engineering. We believe that attracting students into engineering is critical to growth and sustaining industry our nation and the world.

The mission of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded by inventor Dean Kamen, is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

We want to be sure and thank the many sponsors who have contributed regionally and nationally to make this unique experience possible. The ShoreBots especially wish to thank our team’s sponsors: JCPenney, OSU Center for 4H Youth Development, Thogus, rapid prototype + manufacturing LLC (rp+m),  Chemtron Corporation, and MAGNET.

Check out the ALHS Shorebots Facebook Page for the latest updates. Be sure and come out to view the competition at the Wolstein Center March 22-24. We’ll be there!

With the seniors graduating, the juniors and sophomores are already making plans for next year’s 2013 FIRST Robotics Team. GO SHOREBOTS!!

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