Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hard Work and Perseverance

My regular readers know that my son is a bit of an engineer.  He's particularly interested in robotics.  Considering his father is a programmer and made a robot when my son was only a few years old, it's not really a surprise.

What may surprise some, is that although we homeschool our son, he, at the ripe old age of 10 has been able to participate on a robotics team this year.  We have some homeschooling friends who knew that my son loves robots and programming, and put us in touch with a couple of other homeschool moms who wanted to start up a robotics team.  They needed a mentor (an engineer) so it worked out quite well that my husband is a computer engineer.

A few weeks ago, the team participated in a pre-qualification competition.  The goal was to let the teams participate in all the functions of a full competition without all the stress.  It was great, they were scored and were given pointers on how to improve for the actual qualification tournament.  Being that this was the team's first "competition" they went in with the goal being to learn the process so they didn't feel overwhelmed when it came time for the real competition.  How surprised were we when they won an award for the best research project (out of 11 teams present).  To say the team was happy was an understatement.
The team after winning the award for their presentation at the pre-qualification competition
There are 4 pieces the team is graded on.  The robot design (explain why you made the robot do X, why did you use that attachment to do it, why did you program it the way you did, etc), the research project (and an associated presentation of what you found out with your research), the robot performance (actually using the robot they designed and programmed to accomplish certain tasks), and what they call core values (team work and good sportsmanship).

Today was the qualification competition.  You go through each stage without really knowing how you were scored.  You can figure out the robot performance on your own because they assign in advance the points for each task, however you don't necessarily know how all the other teams did (unless you have someone watch all the matches - which we didn't).  So you have to go based on your gut, as well as compare how you did this time to last time.
  • They came out of robot design feeling pretty good.  They were asked some detailed questions, but they were able to answer them, so they felt pretty good about that one.  
  • They performed a skit which they wrote as their method of presenting their research project.  They'd made some improvements based on the recommendations from the judges at the pre-qualification and felt those changes reflected in their presentation so figured they'd score high on that one (especially since they won that category at the pre-qualification).  
  • The core values is actually one of harder pieces for the team because there are 8 of them and it's often hard to get them to agree on a plan of action (they are give a task to perform and they have to work well as a team and not bicker).  Apparently this went well too, so again, they felt pretty confident.  
  • The robot competition was the last thing they did for the day.  In the pre-qualification their highest score was 110.  Today they scored 185!  Not only did that end up being the highest score for the day, earning them the award in that category, it's also the highest score on the west coast of Florida so far.  There are multiple weekends of competitions just because of how many teams there are so that could get broken.
The team with today's award for the best robot performance
So what happens next since they won the robot performance portion today?  That depends on an appeal that has been lodged by the team's coach.  Although we won the robot competition, our overall score (adding up the scores for all 4 categories) was not high enough to advance the team to regionals.  We knew going in that could happen.  In fact, there are many stories of the winning robot performance team not advancing.

The issue is why we didn't score well.  What area did we score lowest?  The research project.  The same research project that won them the award at the pre-qualification (keeping in mind they won without the improvements made for this competition).  After looking at the scoring sheet from pre-qualification and the scoring sheet from the competition today, our coach feels we should have gotten a higher score than we did.  If we'd have gotten that higher score, we may have scored high enough to advance (the top 3 scoring teams out of 13 advanced).  Our scores in the other 3 categories were pretty high, so that category is definitely the culprit.

So now we wait to see what comes of the appeal.

In the mean time... our team has so much to be proud of.  They won the robotics performance piece today, and they also won the research project award at the pre-qualification.   They also handled themselves very well today.  They were very supportive of the other teams throughout the day, and after winning the robotics performance award, they handled not moving on to regionals pretty well.  They were certainly shocked (as was the coach and many of the parents) and they questioned why they didn't advance (as in wanting to know if they did something wrong), but they didn't have a bad attitude about it.  

If this is the end of the road for the team this year, they should be proud of themselves.  I think it's safe to say they had a great time learning all kinds of things about robots, teamwork, and even the medicinal benefits of herbs (what they chose as their research project).  And to see all their hard work pay off by winning two awards whether they advance or not = awesome!  Way to go team!

My son holding the award and the team robot.  I think he's happy  :-)
Late night yesterday, followed by an early and full day today = crashing HARD on the way home.