2016-2017 Year In Review

Well, here I am – the last day of the 2016-2017 school year. It’s been a great ride this year.

June 2016

I had the experience of attending my first Advanced Placement Summer Institute! This was to prepare us for AP Computer Science Principles (AP Computer Science I).

This particular APSI was different from others in that it was not run by College Board, but by the UTeach Institute at University of Texas through the National Science Foundation.

July 2016

After learning about Computer Science in June, I shifted gears to learn about FIRST Robotics. I got to attend a week-long hands-on workshop with Freid Elliott of Dallas ISD and Dr. Patrick Michaud of University of Texas: Dallas.

This training was invaluable in preparing me for the launch of our new robotics program at Ferris High School. Without this workshop, I couldn’t even guess as to how long it would have taken us to get our robot moving.

August 2016

For the first time since August 2012, I had the opportunity to start a school year in a high school! I was very happy to be returning to high school for a full-year.

In August of 2013 and August 2014, I was teaching at The Art Institute of Dallas and in August 2015, I was teaching 4th grade at Ferris Intermediate School.

This year, I taught 1 section of Computer Science, 1 section of Robotics & Automation, 1 section of Principles of Technology/Physics, and 4 sections of Business Information Management (BIM).

September 2016

Now that the school-year was fully underway, I got started on teaching material.

In Computer Science, we hit the ground running with programming in JAVA. In Principles of Technology, we built pressurized soda-bottle rockets and launched them!

In Robotics & Automation, we had the reveal of the game for the 2016/2017 season – Velocity Vortex! It was exciting to see the gears turning as my students started planning how to address the challenge of the game for this year. They were very excited to start designing and building the robot for the game!

My robotics class had the opportunity to work on the Finch robots that were loaned to us from Carnegie Mellon University.

October 2016

Now that we knew the game for robotics, we started having “Come As You Can” (CAYC) workdays on Saturdays for students to come up to the high school and work on the robot.

Here, students were encouraged to come up to the high school to work on the contest robot. I would have the lab open and it was a self-paced workday. Each CAYC workday was typically 8 to 12 hours.

In addition to the robotics CAYC workdays, I had fun with my Principles of Technology class with an egg drop experiment. Here, they had to create a rig that could cushion the fall of a raw egg dropped from a considerable height.

There were 3 rigs that no matter the height, the egg survived again and again. I was very pleased. In the follow-up, the groups had to calculate the force their rig struck the ground with.

November 2016

The robotics team did the majority of their hardware work during this month. This was the month that we got the robot moving!

This was also when we had our only season scrimmage for robotics.

This was our first experience with one of the guiding principles of FIRST Robotics – “Coopertition”. This is the idea of cooperative competition. While this was a scrimmage in that we were able to see what the robots of others teams were able to do, it was also a workshop for us to be able to refine our skills and the build of our robot.

During this month, Principles of Technology worked on creating mouse trap racers.

They had the chance to demonstrate their ability to mix-and-match parts to maximize their designs.

The parts for this project were donated from Donors Choose over the summer in preparation for the school year.

December 2016

As we began to wind-down the 2016 calendar year, the robotics team arrived at their first of 3 league meets which was hosted at Ferris High School.

The robotics team performed very well in their first outing and assumed 2nd place in the season standings. This was an outstanding way to start our inaugural season of FIRST Tech Challenge robotics!

UIL Computer Science also kicked off this month with its first virtual meet. Back in the 2015/2016 academic year, the UIL Computer Science team advanced on its own to UIL Regional competition as a student-run after-school club!

January 2017

This month saw two robotics league meets. Both of these meets were at Mansfield Ben Barber Innovation Academy.

In addition, between the two league meets, the robotics team presented at Ferris Intermediate School addressing the disproportionate representation of girls in STEM fields.

The various members of the robotics team had an enjoyable time working with the students at FIS!

February 2017

This month was really “hot” in multiple ways. The robotics team hosted the league tournament at Ferris High School.

ERROR 404, the FHS robotics team, entered the tournament in 4th place and by the end of the day was solidly in 3rd place.

The team performed very well and had a strong alliance partner as they advanced into the elimination round of the tournament. Unfortunately, we saw the season come to an end in the blink of an eye when a spectator turned on a WiFi hotspot on their phone, which caused our robot to stop.

The Tuesday following the league meet, the month got even hotter when an experiment in my Principles of Technology class went very wrong!

Just 4 days after that fire, the Computer Science team performed in its only face-to-face invitational meet in Mabank. The team from Ferris High School finished in 1st place at the invite!

March 2017

As robotics shifted into off-season mode, and I was looking to regain footing by retooling some experiments in Principles of Technology, March was all about Computer Science.

In late-March, the UIL Computer Science team competed in the UIL District Tournament where they finished in 1st place and advanced to the UIL Regional Tournament!

I was extremely proud of how our team captain performed at this tournament and his decision to hand over the reins to his successor so she could gain some experience in the role she has shadowed for the past two seasons.

April 2017

As we had “played with fire” in February in Principles of Technology, I elected that water would be much safer for us to play with.

So, in mid-April, Principles of Technology built water balloon launchers and launched to strike targets at 20, 40, and 50 yards. To make this more fun, the targets were Mr. Mack McClesky (FHS Assistant Principal), myself, and Dr. Kevin Dixon (FHS Principal) respectively.

Students had to calculate maximum range, height, and launch angles in this experiment!

In addition to getting soaked, this month was also the UIL Computer Science team appearance at the UIL Regional Tournament at Texas A&M University: Commerce.

The UIL Computer Science team had a bit of a rough performance at the UIL Regional Tournament. I believe this was in-part due to over-preparing.

I appreciated with enthusiasm of the team members, but I think they over-worked themselves and succumbed to “brain drain” and fatigue ultimately did them in and they were just overwhelmed with information as they went into the test.

While we did not perform as well on the written test, the team demonstrated outstanding growth on the hands-on test. In 2015/2016, the team solved no hands-on problems at the UIL Regional Tournament. In contrast, the team solved 3 hands-on problems at the UIL Regional Tournament in 2016/2017!

On a personal note, April was when I said “Goodbye” to my home of 9 years in Forney.

For two of my children, this is the only house they really remember. Over the past several years, we have seen Forney grow from a semi-rural community to a suburban community where possessions and materialism have taken over and you are solely based upon what you have and how much you have.

We elected to move to the community where I teach in and where my oldest daughter elected to attend junior high at – Ferris.

It was a bit of a shift to go from a home that we built and was only 10 years old to a home that is over 100 years old. Our new home was built in 1894 and is now 123 years old! The pace of life in this community is wonderful and I would not go back to the suburban rush ever again, if I can have any say in it!

May 2017

Now, we have come full-circle. It has been a year! Both Robotics and Computer Science are in off-season mode and preparing for next year.

Principles of Technology finished the year with a project similar to the one we started the year with, using the 2-liter soda bottles. Unlike the project at the start of the year, students had to create an air foil to achieve non-projectile motion flight with the thrust provided by the pressurized 2-liter soda bottle.

I am looking forward to seeing my graduates walk across that stage and close one chapter in their lives and open the next new chapter! I am excited to hear how they continue to mature, grow, and develop.

I am very excited to see the programs and teams that were launched this year continue to develop next year.

In 2017/2018, we will be launching 2 new engineering courses:

  • Principles of Applied Engineering
  • Engineering Design & Problem Solving

In addition to those two new courses, we will be streamlining the robotics courses:

  • Robotics I
  • Robotics II

We will also be expanding our Computer Science program:

  • Computer Science I (based on AP Computer Science Principles)
  • Computer Science II (based on AP Computer Science – A)

I am extremely blessed to work for a school district and on a campus that supports my out-of-the-box teaching style and methods. I look forward to continuing to work in Ferris and with the children of this community.

Relic Recovery Brainstorming

FIRST-FTC-RelicRecovery17-18-Color-840x700We got our first glimpse of the 2017-2018 FIRST Tech Challenge game last night with a 30-second teaser video posted onto YouTube.

As soon as that video was posted, the speculation began on what the game would be. As an FTC coach, I have no access as to what the game will be ahead of time. The only information I have, beyond the teaser was released in e-mail communications to coaches and mentors.

On May 16th, we received an e-mail from FIRST with the following excerpt:

2017-2018 Season Game Update:
In preparation for the 2017-2018 season, we would like to advise our teams that the 2017-2018 game will not be using the beacon that has been used the past two seasons.

On May 18th, we received an e-mail from AndyMark with the following excerpt:

FIRST Tech Challenge Field Pre-Orders Available

Whether you're a veteran FIRST Tech Challenge team or dipping your toe in the water next year, one thing is certain: you're going to need field elements! We've been proud to supply official game fields for FTC for several years now, and we'll be doing it again with the 2017-2018 game, FIRST Relic Recovery!

Like last year, we're taking preorders for delivery in September; your field elements will arrive early in the week after the FIRST Tech Challenge Kickoff on September 9th.  This year, the game allows us to offer a quarter-field option in addition to the usual half-field and full-field options.  This means that you can have official field elements for practice starting at $150!

We've also got you covered with official soft tiles and field perimeters to create a full, official playing field. And you know we can't talk about FIRST Tech Challenge without mentioning the competition-proven NeveRest gearmotors and TileRunner drive system that makes it easy to get up and running with a top-notch drive system.

What is of most interest in the AndyMark e-mail is the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph:

This year, the game allows us to offer a quarter-field option in addition to the usual half-field and full-field options.

This indicates, at least to me, that major scoring components are limited to each of the corners of the game field this year.

Guessing the Game

Here is the video that was posted on May 18th:

So, I have no real clue as to what to expect in the autonomous period. I am going to guess that there will be some set of tasks to complete in the mid-field area.

For the main portion of the game, I envision that each corner will have a pedestal for holding a single “relic” or multiples “relics” from a specific historic period. The relics will be “broken” into 2 to 4 parts and scattered on the center of the game floor. They are possibly placed or dropped there as part of an autonomous task.

The goal will be that teams must retrieve parts of a relic, assemble it, and place it onto the correct historical pedestal.

I am going to guess that more complex relics are worth more points or there may be lower, middle, and higher positions on each pedestal to place a single relic at a specified level.

For the end game, teams will likely have to “climb out” of the archaeological site by grabbing onto a cross bar placed somewhere on the field, possibly at mid-field.

Countdown Timer: https://www.timeanddate.com/countdown/generic?iso=20170909T11&p0=70&msg=2017-2018+FTC+Kick-Off+Event&font=sanserif

What do you think the game will be?

Robotics to FIS Career Fair

FIRST Tech Challenge

Today, I had the honor of taking several of my FTC 11242 team members to Ferris Intermediate School for its inaugural Career Fair! We were offered to chance to come over and present about careers in robotics and automation.

Part of our discussion centered around working on a team and interpersonal skills. I presented it to the 4th graders that we were working with in the context of playing soccer on the playground at recess. I also had a few team members speak to the challenges that were faced, but held it at an age-appropriate level.

Afterward, our discussion moved to careers in robotics and automation. We first looked at Amazon and the use of the Kiva Robotics systems in order fulfillment. We discussed how the old system was setup and how that compared to the new system and the jobs that is created.

nasa-curiosity-patchOur last discussion was centered around the NASA Curiosity Mars Exploration Rover. We discussed the problem presented in the NatGeo clip. In the presentation, I setup what was going on, but then had the participants sit in groups with the team members and work through brainstorming ideas for how the rover could traverse the rocks that were damaging the rover. The groups were given only 4 minutes to brainstorm.

When their time was up, we came back together and quickly presented the ideas. I then discussed with them that what they had just done was a brainstorming session – the same type of thing that NASA did when they discovered the problem.

In both of our presentations, we had 2 groups whose faces lit-up when they saw that the solution NASA ultimately used was the one they had come up with in the brainstorming session!

FTC Kick-Off Event Planning

FTC 2016-2017 - Velocity Vortex
FTC 2016-2017 – Velocity Vortex

Each year, FIRST Tech Challenge reveals the game for the new season on either the first of the second Saturday of September. This past year, the kick-off event was held on Saturday, 10-September-2017.

This year, our region held a kick-off event at University of Texas at Dallas in Hoblitzelle Hall in Cecil Auditorium. That lecture hall is able to accommodate a few hundred, but was at capacity. Some teams had to be turned away to ahead-of-time to other events that had to be organized to handle overflow.

For the 2017-2018 kick-off event, Ferris High School will be opening its doors to host teams from across the North Texas region!

Panoramic Image - Main Gymnasium
Panoramic Image – Main Gymnasium

The plan would be to house teams, three covered game floors, and the emcee in the main gymnasium during the kick-off event.

Panoramic Image - Auxiliary Gymnasium
Panoramic Image – Auxiliary Gymnasium

Depending on how many teams attend, we may also have 3 additional game floors in the auxiliary gymnasium.

When we have hosted FTC events in the 2016/2017 year, the main gymnasium was where the single game floor was placed and spectators were seated in the stands. The auxiliary gymnasium was used for the team pit areas and practice floor(s).


Robotics Tour to Ferris Intermediate

As part of the community outreach efforts for FTC 11242 (ERROR 404), the team visited with the students of all 19 homeroom classes at Ferris Intermediate School individually. This took a total of 4 full days to complete.

As opposed to just “showing off the robot” our efforts centered around working with the 4th and 5th grade girls discussing that gender has nothing to do with ability to succeed in mathematics, science, or engineering.

League Meet #2 – Lessons Learned

FIRST Tech ChallengeWe had our second league meet of the 2016/2017 season yesterday at the Ben Barber Career & Technology Academy in Mansfield, TX.

Team 11242 and our robot (Rufus) performed very well.

At the start of the meet, we were in 2nd place in the standings after only 1 league meet completed. At the end of the day, we slid to 3rd place for the season. However, we were tied with FTC Team 127 (Fighting Pickles) for qualifier points. Ultimately, the ranking points had to be used to break the tie – giving FTC 127 2nd place and FTC 11242 3rd place.

This meet was good as we got to see all 8 teams within the league. At the first league meet, 2 teams were unable to attend and 1 team had to forfeit at the event due to circumstances beyond their control.

Lessons Learned as an Event Coordinator
  • Do not generate the qualifier schedule until robot inspection is completed
    • We had 1 team (FTC 9582) who did not pass robot inspection but the schedule was already created and the first round of the contest already completed.
    • In this case, the team was allowed to compete, but had to remain powered-down and parked. They were “dead weight” for their alliance partners. However, they benefitted from having several strong alliance partners and did not finish in last place.
  • Do not change the order of the qualifier schedule once it’s compiled.
    • We had a few teams who wanted to make some last-minute adjustments to their robots before being called into the queueing area, where they are not allowed to make any changes to the robot. They asked if their rounds could be moved.
    • Once teams receive the qualifier schedule, they start staging resources based upon that schedule. For example, a team may choose to weight to do a quick repair on their robot knowing they are about to be off for a round or two and can move back to their pit.
  • A large screen for displaying the timers and scores is needed.
    • When we hosted the first league meet, we had this on a 21 inch monitor. This was too small.
    • I am going to secure a large projector screen and a projector for the league tournament.
  • The event coordinator does NOT need to be the emcee as well.
    • There are too many things going on at a tournament or meet that the event coordinator needs to manage and emcee duties can hinder this.
Lessons Learned in Regards to the Robot (from Students)
  • Watch for penalties! Use the timers when testing the robot in simulations.
    • We were hit with 2 major penalties during the day for crossing the center line of the field during the autonomous period before the first 10 seconds.
    • The first penalty would not have made a difference in winning or losing as we would have lost by 70 points as opposed to 110 points.
    • The second penalty made a H-U-G-E difference in the day. As opposed to losing by 20 points, we would have won by 20 points. In that round, we against the team we ultimately were tied with in the qualifier points tally. Had we not had that penalty, we would have finished the day in 1st place and been solidly in 2nd place for the season standings.
  • Don’t overcomplicate the game.
    • We have spent the majority of the season trying to determine how to effectively hit the button on the assigned half of the beacon during the autonomous period.
    • We realized the rules allow for an infinite number of button pushes during the autonomous mode.
    • So, we can drive up and just hit the beacon regardless of which button we hit or color we are assigned. We have a 50/50 shot of getting the correct color.
    • At this point, the color sensor will determine if the beacon is the correct color. If it is, we move on to the second beacon. If is isn’t we wait 5 seconds and just ram the beacon again. This will toggle the beacon to the other color.
    • If we have to change the color of the beacon, we’ll make sure to build in a check to verify the color before we move on to the second beacon.
  • A launcher for autonomous can’t be that hard to build.
    • We’ve been struggling to build a reliable intake and launching system for the small particles used in the game this year.
    • We’ve decided to just build a launcher. This will allow us to load 1 or 2 particles during autonomous to score points.
    • We’ll use a servo to push the balls into the correct position to be caught by the launching wheels.
    • These launches will occur at the start of the autonomous period while we are waiting to make sure we don’t get any penalties.
  • Servos stink at pushing beacon buttons.
    • The original design had called for servos to extend an actuator to push the beacon buttons.
    • Unfortunately, the beacon buttons are just a below the height of the game floor walls. As such, the actuator can actually get snagged on the wall.
    • When trying to break free, the servo horn is the weakest point in the system and typically fails. We have now lost two servos this way.
Lessons Learned in Regards to the Team (from Coach)
  • FTC 11242 is an outstanding team!
    • Our programming captain takes charge and can make on the fly changes to the program!
    • Our design and mechanical captain gets everything done on the robot that needs to be done and keeps us operational!
    • Our driver did an awesome job! He even saved another team who had gotten stuck on the base of the center vortex!
    • The members of the team support each other and showed the best of what Ferris has. I am very proud to be their coach!

League Meet #2 Matches

Here are the raw videos of the matches FTC11242 (ERROR 404) competed in at League Meet #2 earlier today.

Match 1 of 511242/9608 (BLUE) vs 11085/127 (RED)
WINNER: RED (141 to 35)

Match 2 of 59608/9402 (BLUE) vs 9582/11242 (RED)
WINNER: RED (60 to 10)

Match 3 of 59402/11242 (BLUE) vs 127/9609 (RED)
WINNER: RED (80 to 61)

Match 4 of 511242/11085 (BLUE) vs 9402/9402 (RED)
Winner: BLUE (76 to 15)

Match 5 of 59582/127 (BLUE) vs 11242/9403 (RED)
Winner: BLUE (90 to 40)

First League Meet is in the Books

FIRST Tech ChallengeWe just wrapped-up our first league meet of the FIRST Tech Challenge 2016/2017 season!

The Citrine League has 8 teams who are committed to participating in the 2016/2017 season coming from Erath (2 teams), Tarrant (2 teams), Dallas (1 team), Ellis (1 team), and Kaufman (2 teams) counties.

At the meet, we had 6 teams show with 1 team having to forfeit just before we got started.

FTC 11242 at League Meet #1
FTC 11242 at League Meet #1

Following 7 rounds of matches in the Velocity Vortex game of the season, FTC 11242 (Ferris High School) came out in 2nd place for the meet.

As this was the first meet of the season, the meet results are the current season rankings as well.

At the end of the day, the rankings broke-out as follows:

  • 1st Place – FTC 9609 (Kaufman High School) 10 QP / 47 RP
  • 2nd Place – FTC 11242 (Ferris High School) 4 QP / 56 RP
  • 3rd Place – FTC 9402 (Henderson Junior High School) 4 QP / 47 RP
  • 4th Place – FTC 9403 (Henderson Junior High School) 4 QP / 42 RP
  • 5th Place – FTC 127 (Ben Barber Career/Tech Academy) 2 QP / 56 RP

Unranked teams include the following:

  • FTC 9408 (Kaufman High School) 0 QP / 0 RP
  • FTC 9582 (DeSoto High School) 0 QP / 0 RP
  • FTC 11085 (Mansfield High School) 0 QP / 0 RP

All-in-all, the team and robot performed exceptionally well. I am very thankful for the volunteers who assisted me with successfully pulling this meet off.

Slipping Pinion Gear

We are using the AM-2964 NeveRest motors on our FTC robot this year. They have worked great for us until yesterday. One of our drive motors would only work going forward. Upon further examination, we realized that the motor would freely spin in reverse and would engage with the motor when going forward.

NeveRest AM-2964 with Gearbox Removed
NeveRest AM-2964 with Gearbox Removed

When the motor was stripped down, the pinion gear was found to be detached from the drive axle. The pinion gear only mounts to the axle in one direction. There is no flat surface or groove on the drive axle and no set screw on the pinion gear. It appears the the pinion gear on these motors is compression mounted on the drive axle.

Following the failure of this motor, we wrote it off as an isolated event. We mounted a new motor onto the robot and resumed testing. During the testing, our other drive motor suffered an identical failure. While the first motor that failed had nearly 20 hours of drive-time on it, the other motor had less than 5 minutes on it!

Short of using Loctite, I’m at a loss on how to secure this pinion gear to the drive axle. Has anyone else has this issue with the NeveRest motors from AndyMark? If so, how did you resolve it?