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Competitors arrived at 5 p.m. and learned what the contest was about.  They had until 6:30 p.m. to design and put together their robot for the contest.  During their experiment time, they could test the course.

This is what they were given:

A terrible oil spill has happened this summer in the Gulf of Mexico.  Robots are being used to assist in the cleanup.  You must decide how your robot is going to improve the situation.  You will have 2 runs during the contest.  You can practice run before the contest. You have 5 minutes maximum for each run.

  1. Swap containment cap: Remove cap from pipe and replace it with another one. (10 points, for removal of the first cap and 20 more points, for placing the other cap on it.
  2. Move berms off the shore and into the ocean to try to prevent the oil from coming ashore. (5 points per berm that reaches the new goal.)
  3. Pick up tar balls from distant shore. (1 point per tar ball)
  4. Caution: avoid hitting the 2 oil skimmers. (robot dogs) (3 point deduction per hit)
  5. Avoid hitting the hydro fire oil boom (10 point deduction per hit)

As an added bonus, since this related to a real life scenario, each team could try for bonus points in Internet research. A laptop with Internet access was provided if they wanted to use it.

Bonus Questions (1 point each):

You may use the Internet to find answers to these questions.

  1. When did the oil spill begin?
  2. What is the name of the oil company that had the oil spill?
  3. Which of these challenges listed has a robot really been doing this weekend?
  4. How is a new containment cap supposed to help with oil spill cleanup?
  5. What do the berms do?
  6. What are tar balls, and where are they?
  7. What is the job of the oil skimmers?
  8. How has the Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act of 1920, impacted oil spill cleanup?
  9. What is a species of animal impacted by the spill and how does it impacts them?
  10. What is a business or industry hurt by the oil spill and how?
  11. What does a hydro fire oil boom do?
  12. The largest maker of oil spill equipment in the U.S. is in Carmi, Illinois. What is its name?

I hoped the contest would help the participants better understand different problems and solutions with the oil spill, so they could better follow future updates on it. 

Our contest this year experimented with new features we had never seen tried.  We changed the judging with individual judging plus team judging.  We added an impromptu Internet research unit.

How did our changes work? That’s tomorrow’s blog.

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My kids have been involved in robotics contests the past 4 years.  They enjoy them, and I love the varied skills learned in a single contest.  First, there are the technical skills: a problem is presented, and a whole team has to work to solve it.  Physics, mechanics, engineering ingenuity, and computer programming are all key elements.  Second, there are team building skills: team members must learn to communicate and work together.

Besides being a parent, I’m a 4-H leader in Evansville, Indiana.  4-H has a major emphasis towards science, engineering, and technology and has a national goal of inspiring 1 million new scientists for our new century.  I began the process to have a robotics project in our county. 

A robotics project wasn’t enough, however.  We needed a club that focused on technology.  I didn’t want a robotics club; when Edison invented the light bulb, were there light bulb clubs? It’s more than robotics.  Our information revolution is the biggest transformer of world culture since the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted our kids to be ready to be the best riders in the world Technological Rodeo.

So we began a Technology Club.  (Actually, the kids in the club voted they didn’t like that name and renamed it Tech Club.)  At each monthly meeting, we have a different workshop topic in engineering, electrical science, aerospace, computers, and physics.  Each member tackles a 4-H project in one of those areas and gives a demonstration each year in one of those areas.

Our county sends several teen 4-H members every summer to participate in science and engineering workshops.  I hope, with our club, we raise the interest in those workshops and the knowledge base of those who participate.

We also organize our county’s robotics contest. The last 2 years, the contest has mirrored other contests in which my kids participate, with teams competing against one another.  Our contest is an impromptu design contest;  kids don’t know until they arrive what the challenge is and have limited time in which to complete it.

This year’s contest adds an element almost out of a reality show.  In addition to the team contest, we will have judges observing the competitors individually.  They will evaluate the competitors both in problem solving and team building skills.  And they will award an individual champion in each of 3 age divisions. I have not seen another robotics contest try this twist and am curious to see how the experiment works.

Problem Solving:

  1. Understands challenges presented and develops strategies to overcome them.
  2. Develops a good robotics design for the challenge.
  3. Assists in robotic programming to meet the challenge.
  4. Demonstrates strong troubleshooting skills.
  5. Is able to make needed adjustments to robotic design or problem solving.

 Team Building: 

  1. Participates on the team.
  2. Communicates constructively with other team members, actively listening to them.
  3. Encourages participation of all team members; pulls strengths from individuals to build a better team.
  4. Takes good care of robot and its parts.
  5. Treats everyone in the robotics contest in a respectful and supportive manner.

My goal is to teach the 4-H members to not only strive to win but to strive to win well.  We’ll know later tonight whether my experiment to mix up the contest is a success or an epic fail.

Either way, our leaders and our club will learn by doing.

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