Robotics & Computer Science (FIRST, Zero, VEX, Skills USA) Idaho teams compete at the top levels.

Community mentors and event helpers are always needed

The Robotic competitions are heating up going into September. Check out all the action below with the four different programs below. The first two tend to be used as afterschool club type events and the last two are suited for in-classroom situations. I have links to the national organizations as they tend to explain things and then links to the state group if there is one. You’ll also find several news articles from the summer competitions.

Many of the events have either a middle school or a high school component so teams compete against their own age levels. Community mentors and event helpers are always needed and I can help you with contacts if the websites are not clear.


–1) Find out what the FIRST® Robotics Leagues are about and how to participate or start a team. These are described as an engineering experience with some programming.

*** The challenge parameters for the middle school program FIRST® LEGO® League will be release on Tuesday August 26th

From University of Idaho’s 4H Robotics page Kick off events below, check U of I’s FLL and FTC pages for other deadlines and tournaments. FLL (ages 9-14) FTC (ages 12-18)
Aug. 30 – Ada County Library, Victory Rd. Branch, Boise – 12:00 noon – 5:00 pm (FLL)
Sept. 3 – Weiser Vendome, Weiser – 5:00 – 6:30 pm (FLL)
Sept. 6 – Hepworth Building Room 108, College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls, 9:30-2:00 pm (FTC)
Sept. 8 – Trade & Technology Building, Building 51, 2nd floor, Idaho State University, Pocatello, 4:00 pm (FLL)
Sept. 9 – SEL Event Center, Pullman, WA – 5:30 – 8:00 pm (FLL/FTC)
Sept. 11 – North Idaho Christian School, Hayden, ID – 6:00 – 8:00 pm (FLL/FTC)

The best-kept secret in robotics: the kids! Coeur d’Alene Press


–2) ZERO Robotics – This one has more programming

Based on the FIRST challenges but instead of engineering the experience is programming (in C) space robots aboard the International Space Station. The very first pilot competition was between two north Idaho high schools in 2009 and organized by Discover Technology founder Dr. Lorna Finman. The high school competition now even includes schools in the European Space Agency nations.

This summer Barbara Morgan, NASA/BSU, was instrumental in getting three Meridian teams in the middle school competition, one of which made it all the way to the finals where they got to watch on live cast as the space station robots ran their code.

The high school ZERO Robitics competition kicks off on September 6th with a live webcast from MIT. Training provided via webinars. Find a team, find a mentor, create a name and register your team of 5-20 students by September 24th to participate.



3) VEX Robotics – This summer we had a Burley team travel to Hawaii and win the Vex International Summer Championship. The high school and middle school VEX competitions and a few others can be found on this site Early season tournaments are coming up this fall in Wood River and in Caldwell.


4) SKillsUSA

Idaho’s Professional Technical Education department
has several robotics competitions available in the SKillsUSA program including humanform, mobile, automation, and search and rescue.

My Day at West Ada Tech Expo looking at how Idaho teachers use @PrepDog, GeoGebra, & MineCraft – lots of roller coaster activities

I was able to attend the very exciting, for me anyway, Tech Expo put on last week by West Ada (Meridian) School District as part of the teacher development training the district provides.  Besides hundreds of West Ada teachers attending there were also many  charter school teachers and a large variety of educational and technology vendors with displays.

My interest lay in attending the various sessions led by teachers and vendors discussing what they were doing in their classrooms.

First up was PrepDog.  Developed and ran by current and former Boise school district junior high teachers, PrepDog started out as just a helpful and fun test practice site and you’ll find links to the free version of this in school blogs across the nation.  To help individual and groups of teachers plan, prepare, and save lessons from year to year, the teacher version of the program was created, which helps teachers use, develop, and share on-line student quizzes and lessons geared to common core and other standards.  The quiz format can be from multiple choice to drag & drop graphic labeling. Teachers can store documents, audio recordings, and video in their lesson plans and write assignment instructions and provide web links in the lesson editor. Students progress thru the graded quizzes and assignments the teacher selects and the program provides messaging between students and teachers.

Brian Hunicke, one of PrepDogs co-founders, has also been working on project based learning lessons suitable for every age level using inexpensive and easily created marble rollercoasters made out of foam pvc pipe insulation, tape and cardboard.  All kids seem to like the building aspect of it and the teacher gets to work in math concepts making it a win for everyone.

I followed up with a session on GeoGebra presented by Margo Gore, one of West Ada’s online teachers.  GeoGebra , a word play on Geometry and Algebra is a free graphing program, (bye bye TI graphing calculator), that works on almost all devices.  Plug in a formula and it graphs it for you.  Draw points or lines on the screen, it writes the formula for you.  Import Excel data and ask the program to draw you a trend line.  Change the formula or move a point and, you guessed it, the program updates and reflects the changes.  Nothing special so far?  Did I mention you can create animations?  Make a line-drawn duck out of angles and curves and have it walk across the screen.  Place a sliding point at the top of a curve and let it whoosh down and up the other side.  She’s going to have her algebra kids work on rollercoasters this year.

Now if that wasn’t exciting enough then I got to go to a MineCraft session.  MineCraft is described as a virtual “sandbox” game.  In real life at the beach we’d use wet sand, drift wood, stones, etc and make castles and moats and have fights with the enemy hordes and knock everything down before starting over, virtually it’s the same concept.  Last year was Ashley McDowell’s first year using Minecraft in her elementary class and she felt she had really good results with it.  Kids were most engaged when they were able to work in groups on the same building project and she used it for her Language Arts units with students recreating scenes from the books they were reading.

Of course with all the sessions the stress was not on letting kids go and play but to use the tool with a purpose often with a plan or theorize here, test there dichotomy.  I liked the insight I got into STEM activities taking place in Idaho classrooms and the anticipation of all the teachers getting ready to head back into the classroom was palpable.