I spent all day Monday and Tuesday this week supervising a 4 student robotics team at the Ontario Skills competition in Waterloo. This was the culmination of 8 months of work after school helping the students design and build their entry. You can see some of the action on YouTube. The RC robots needed to pick up wooden blocks and place them onto the rolling target, the higher up the more points earned.
Competing in this event taught the students more than they will ever learn in a regular course. Every year, after months of after school meetings full of trials, plans, building and testing I begin to despair in March. It never looks like the robot will be ready, that the team is together, that the robot will fast enough or strong enough to last through even a county trial. I start muttering "never again." But every year now for the last 4 years the students have pulled it off and had their entry ready. Sometimes we are working on it on the Saturday before the first county competition! The students organize into a team, each assigned tasks to do. The equipment is tested, parts, tools and batteries are packed into boxes, and for the last two years we've made it to the Ontario level at Waterloo. The growth and learning that happens during this brief interval is phenomenal to watch. Engineering, troubleshooting, planning, observation and tactics come pouring out making me proud of the students and, maybe, open to doing it again next year. Then, playing against a machine that is far bigger, faster and better engineered the team pulls off a win and I go "Yes!", pumping the air and thinking of course, of course we're going at it again next year. Competing at this level reaffirms my faith that I teach the best students in the world.
How did the team do? On Monday the robot broke down and we went home in last place, 19 out of 19. The top 16 teams would continue to the finals on Tuesday afternoon. The team very confidently rebuilt their robot and returned Tuesday morning to fight back into 15th place. On Tuesday afternoon they never gave up despite a deteriorating gripper function and continued to win 50% of the time allowing them to finish in 7th spot.
Here is some video shot with a smart phone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xwMO6mb9EE&feature=youtu.be