Monday, February 16, 2015

FRC 4992 Final week. Introducing Admiral Grace Hopper.

We are into the home stretch of the FRC "build season" and all of the planning, testing and pre-assembly came together during the last week as the students finally completed the base and attached the lift, winch and arm mechanisms to complete our entry. The team worked hard throughout January and also learned a great deal about design and engineering. I was gratified to see the team using our own desktop CNC mill to make aluminum parts and our new 3D printer to make plastic parts to help bring it all together.

The team also decided to draw inspiration from one of the most important people in the history of modern technology and name the robot after her. The well crafted autobiography of Admiral Grace Hopper by Gillian Jacobs will help you to see why the team chose this name.

Programming the Harvard Mark 2 computer must have been a daunting task. Many of the challenges must have been unanticipated. Building an FRC robot is like that too. Many of our challenges could have been more easily overcome through better planning and better organization and of course some just could not have been anticipated. In our second season I have come to realize that it will be necessary to codify better preparation and organization so that the planning and building will go smooth from year to year. This work is necessary because the team of students will change every year as the younger ones gain more experience and the older ones graduate and leave. At this point, with one day left to work on the robot, I am left thinking about this past fall semester and how to make it all work again from year to year. As a teacher it is easy to dream up a curriculum and start designing lessons but another challenge here is that this is a club. The students attend, or don't, depending on how they feel about the activity. If the pre-build season club meetings are all about lessons and skill development the students may feel it is too much like another class. The organization of the team will need to be such that the learning and skill development is student driven. They must feel the need to learn and practice skills through a will to succeed and perform well at a later date. A tough task with a generation so used to immediate gratification.

Admiral Grace Hopper is a good name for a robot. Hopefully it will make the students reflect on an era when solutions took methodical planning and months of work to accomplish. And hopefully they will ponder the outright determination it takes to start out being rejected from the navy for being too old and too small and to work your way up to the rank of admiral.

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