The crowd goes wild as one team cheers ecstatically that they’re advancing to the finals. On the other team, heads hang low and the captain cries in his coach’s arms. The entire arena booms after falling silent seconds earlier while the referees decide the controversial ending. This game came down to the last second after the losing team commanded the entire game until a fluke mistake at the very end. By now you know I’m describing a final four game during March Madness, but I’m not talking about basketball.
Last weekend, we excitedly attended the Colorado Regional of a high school robotics competition held at the University of Denver’s Magness Center arena. Somehow, even after graduating from an engineering school, I had never heard of this until a few days prior I saw a small post about the free 3-day on a local high school’s Facebook. I hoped this would be a great learning experience for our young boys, and my expectations were far exceeded.
We spent several hours on Saturday watching the matches and we walked through the workshop pit so the boys could meet some of the teams. My boys were engrossed, even though it was nap time. They were also excited to see a LEGO demonstration by a 10 year old girl of programmed a machine that autonomously went through an obstacle course retrieving objects which she built for the FIRST® LEGO® League competition. The controversial semi-final ending I mentioned in the first paragraph indeed happened with the match score at 261 to 259, and the losing team lost because the rope snapped that was hoisting their third robot into final position. I’m not sure of all the rules (more on that below), but I believe both teams still advance to the national competition later in April.
Not only did excitement scream through our veins at this robotics competition, it got me thinking that our vision for the The Mineral Maniacs book series reaches fairly close to this FIRST® organization. Inspiring kids to get involved with an industry that will have substantial impact on their futures. I’d like to elaborate this idea using three key themes from FIRST®.
FIRST®: Where kids walk in and innovators walk out
FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. FIRST® holds robotics competitions for kids K-12, but their mission goes after so much more than robotics.
“FIRST is more than robots. The robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills. Kids often come in not knowing what to expect – of the program nor of themselves. They leave, even after the first season, with a vision, with confidence, and with a sense that they can create their own future”
I saw this vision first hand during the competition of students eager to share their ideas, help others improve, and confidence in their creations. My boys definitely walked out of that show wanting to be innovators because they’ve been busy designing on paper and building creations ever since. Our hope for those children reading The Mineral Maniacs that not only would they become more interested in the natural resources around us, but also grow in character and empower stronger teamwork to solve problems they encounter.
Second: Inspiration is Everywhere
This competition displayed powerfully that the innovations driving us into the future will continue to be amazing. But that doesn’t mean that to pursue greatness in Science and Technology we leave behind the arts and philosophies. Quite the opposite, these arts and philosophies nurture our inspiration to build and create. In between each match, while setting up for the next match, on the jumbotron they’d show submissions to the #FIRSTparody Music Video Contest. These short videos were incredibly clever and had to take immense teamwork to complete.
As an engineer, many times my best ideas occur after I’ve gotten stumped on a problem and had time to play or rest, and I would imagine these students have similar experiences. Through the The Mineral Maniacs, we hope to not only develop a love for reading, but also inspire their imaginations look at the materials around us and see all the steps that molded each in our world to perform its purpose.
Third: Gracious Professionalism® and Collaboration
The two values pointed out in the vision and mission of FIRST®: Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition®.
“Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.”
And Coopertition is a combination of the two words Collaboration and Competition, but essentially “means competing always, but assisting and enabling others when you can.”
Both of these values are essential when innovating any aspect of our life, whether something simple like deciding to carpool with others that travel the same path or complex like figuring out a more effective way to extract an element from a type rock. These values are part of the competition themselves, which requires teams to join their robotic teams in alliances to complete the objectives at hand.
If you live near St. Louis or Houston, both locations of the National Robotics competitions, I strongly recommend rounding up your kids, your friends, and your grandparents and go watch this amazing event.
If anybody reading this is involved with any of these FIRST events, please share in the comments any thoughts or experiences you’ve had.