Meet my Brother
There are about a million and one things I’d like to write about this week. A tribute to Shirley Temple, a list of all the places I want to go this semester and why, a consideration of the brilliant simplicity associated with the names of different Olympic sports in Czech. But first, I need to brag.
My brother, though I don’t often talk about him, is a really cool kid. He’s only thirteen years old, but he’s been doing some pretty sweet stuff with his life. He just finished making an amazing stained glass project, he had a big part in his school’s recent Shakespeare performance, and he earned an award for the youth referee of the year in the local AYSO soccer organization last month. He’s heading to Japan in a couple of months with his class for his first parent-free international trip. (If he’s anything like me, and he’s shaping up to be, it will be the first of many.)
But of the most importance right now is to give him and Team M a much deserved and giant “Congratulations!”, because they’re going to St. Louis!
For anyone not involved in FIRST, this doesn’t mean much, so let me explain. FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is an international robotics organization. They have challenges for all age groups, from JrFLL for 4th and 5th graders up to FRC for high school students. If you want detailed information about the organization, go here, and if you want detailed information about the challenges, go here, here, and here.
Each of the levels of FIRST Robotics has local challenges; the winners of various awards in these challenges get forwarded to regional competitions, and the winners there get to go to nationals, which are held in St. Louis. (Hence the excitement.)
I was lucky enough to go to St. Louis in high school because I joined a good team. My brother, on the other hand, gets to go to St. Louis because he and his friends are actually good at what they do. Admittedly, they have an amazing parent advisor who is probably the smartest man I’ve ever met in my life, and the kids are lucky to have him around. But the kids are lucky not because Zain does the work for them, but because he gives them challenges in the offseason that prepare them to face their problems and solve them on their own.
Not only that, but apparently they work together and are good at research. The highest award teams can earn at any level of FIRST is the Chairman’s Award. (Edit – apparently the FLL awards system is a bit different. I wouldn’t really know, I was never that good at that level. It turns out their team got the Champion’s Award, not Chairman’s, which is based on their scores in Robot Design, Project, and Core Values. Also, not all teams at the FLL level get to go to St. Louis; there is a national lottery for teams that got the Champion’s Award, and Team M lucked out.) This award is given to one team at every competition, and is granted based on a variety of factors. At every level, it includes robot performance, teamwork, and commitment to FIRST values. At the high school level, it includes a consideration of the team’s service to their community. At the middle school level, it includes the level of research about your project and the quality of the presentation. (Every challenge is themed; teams must research and create a solution to a problem within the theme. This year’s theme was weather.)
To receive the Chairman’s Award is a big honor, perhaps the biggest honor in the whole competition. When in St. Louis, there are exactly two awards all teams want: the Champion’s Award (winning the whole competition) and the Chairman’s Award. Other awards, for robot design, first aid, FIRST values, etc., are nice, but these are the ones you really want.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Team M won the Chairman’s Award at their regional competition, which puts them in the running for the Chairman’s Award at Nationals. They ALSO had the highest score of the competition, and their 4 scores were all in the top 6 of the weekend, which makes them even more awesome in my book.
So congratulations, Robby, because you’re amazing. And I don’t tell you often enough, but I love you and I am incredibly impressed by everything you are accomplishing every single day. I wish that I could have been home for your Recital presentation and your show. I can’t wait to see your stained glass in person when I get home. I wish I could have heard your speech, but I’m looking forward to being home for your graduation speech to see how much you’ve grown up. Congratulations on the Ref of the Year award. Be careful with the plaque though, the AYSO fell off of mine after a year or two. And, of course, congratulations to you and Team M. You guys rock. (See below)
Dear Team M,
Congratulations! You guys should be very proud of yourselves. To have accomplished what you have, to have earned the scores you have, and to have gotten the awards you have is seriously impressive. So give yourselves a pat on the back, because you deserve it.
But be prepared for St. Louis. I’ve been there, and I know what its like. It is amazing and petrifying at the same time. You will have experiences there you’ll never forget, but hopefully you will all get to go more than once and they’ll all blend together. But still, be prepared.
You get to travel to St. Louis. You get to talk to kids from around the country that are just as smart and accomplished as you are. But you have to face the reality that winning everything won’t be easy, and winning a single match is an accomplishment (this is something you haven’t really faced for a while…).
There are all sorts of experiences to be had there, and all sorts of connections for you to make. Befriend robotics kids from around the country – but do more than just friend them on facebook. Actually talk to them, ask them questions. Don’t limit yourselves to FLL kids either. Familiarize yourself with the FRC and FTC challenges for this year. Go and watch some of the matches, and then talk to some of the older kids. Yes, they are in high school. But you all will be too within a year or two. Talk to them, get to know what works and what doesn’t. Because their experiences will help you in the future, but also with your FLL challenges.
It is scary for me to think that my baby brother is old enough to be thinking about making connections in the world, but he is. If you are all going to St. Louis on your own merits, you all are. All the members of Team M, and perhaps equally importantly, your parents, will have the opportunity to meet representatives from all sorts of tech and robots related entities. There will be college reps from MIT and CalTech and, though you guys are still in middle school, I’m sure there will be brochures about amazing summer programs, complete with financial aid incentives to help you get there.
Try to take some time to explore. Hundreds of teams come from all over the world to compete, each bringing different ideas and different techniques to the competition. Talk to other FLL kids, but go bigger. Talk to kids in FRC and FTC. Ask them about scouting, and figure out why it is so important in the high school competitions. Find the place with the college kids and their copters (no promises it will be there this year, but look!). Talk to them about robots in real life, because they probably have experience with it. Talk to the judges about your robot, but also ask them about their experiences in industry. If you are going to St. Louis, we already know you’re interested in this stuff, so see these three or four days as a time to learn as much as you can.
Everybody in the industry knows that the kids (of all ages) at St. Louis are the engineers of the future, and you will be treated as such. But you will also get treated like kids. I was only there as a high school student, and I’m sure we had more freedom than you will get. We had dances, and a free Black Eyed Peas concert for all the competitors, but we also had strict curfews and a lot of responsibilities. Because this is a competition, after all, and everyone wants to win. There is excitement when everything goes right and heartbreak when everything goes wrong.
Be prepared. Even though there is a lot of fun, there is also a lot of work to be done. To be successful in St. Louis, you have a lot of work to do before you get there. You need to polish your presentation. It doesn’t matter how good you think it was, it can be better. Make the presentation to a panel of teachers, and ask them for honest critiques; when you get criticism, don’t be offended, but incorporate it to make your presentation better. Figure out why you didn’t get your highest possible score on all four runs at regionals. Is your mat at home slightly different than the one you competed on? Why? Will your robot still work if the table isn’t perfectly level? If there is one thing that will be absolutely necessary at the next level of competition, it is consistency.
Bring something to hand out. Though fewer people visit the FLL pits than the FRC pits, there will still be people. Make up a Team M flyer, or pins, or something silly so that people will remember you. Why are you called Team M anyway? People will want to know. Be prepared for judges to come and talk to you in the pits, while you are watching other robots, and even while your own robot is competing. Always be polite, and if you can’t answer their questions, recommend a different team member who can. Remember, gracious professionalism always and forever.
You will make a million memories while in St. Louis, and the experience will be truly amazing. No matter what happens while you’re there, remember that it is seriously amazing what you have all accomplished as a team and as individuals to get there. But don’t be conceited, and learn as much as you can while you’re there.
Most of all, though, get excited and have a good time!!
Finally, if you want to know anything about my competitions in St. Louis, my FRC teams, or anything else, (or, parents, if you do!) just put it in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.
Good luck, and Congratulations again.