FIRST Tech Challenge Pushes Students to Form Problem Solving, Collaboration, and Team-Building Skills

Jacob Slobe

Young robotics experts from across the United States will gather at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on March 15-17, 2018 for the ultimate showdown. The top 72 teams in from 10 states will compete at the FIRST Tech Challenge North Super Regional Championship in hopes of advancing on to the next round.

FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics program for middle school and high school students in which they build a team, of up to fifteen students, and are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format.  Each season concludes with an exciting FIRST World Championship.

The team’s robot is required complete tasks as defined by that year’s challenge. This year’s challenge, entitled Relic Recovery, outlines a point-scoring system with the goal to score as many points as possible. There is a 30-second autonomous portion where the robot is pre-programmed to complete the task of knocking a color-coded ball off a balancing block and placing a foam block inside a designated area. This is followed by a 2-minute driver-controlled segment which includes picking up, moving and stacking blocks, picking up a relic, placing the relic outside the competition field and then placing the relic back on a balancing stone.

“It’s really inspiring to see what these kids have done with the same materials and the same resources that they have all across Iowa. Every single robot is different,” says Rebecca Whitaker, FIRST Tech Challenge Affiliate Partner.

FIRST Tech Challenge is way more than just building robots though. Guided by adult coaches and mentors, students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas. Teams are required to keep an engineering notebook, raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach for which they can win awards. 

Advancement is not only based on robot performance. Students also have to take part in community outreach and fundraising. FIRST Tech teams are also interviewed by a panel of judges give out awards based on what the teams have told them. Half of the advancements are based on robot performance and the other half are decided by the judges.

“The robot is just the vehicle for the learning. We don’t want all of the focus to be on the robot. We want the students to be completely well rounded and able to excel at many different things,” says Whitaker.

A big advantage to participating in FIRST is gaining access to millions in college scholarships made available by colleges, universities, and corporations who support FIRST. This is exclusive financial help open only to FIRST team members, giving them a competitive leg up on other students seeking educational funds.

First Tech Challenge Students