WAVERLY — The Wave Droids have been spreading the word about robotics.
That was key to the rookie Waverly-Shell Rock High School team advancing to the FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championship Friday and Saturday in Coralville. Eight of the 48 teams at the competition are from Northeast Iowa. The event is taking place at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.
The 13 freshmen through juniors who make up the Wave Droids, also known as Team 13206, put a lot of effort into community outreach this school year after forming last summer.
Junior Sam Potter said that included showcases of the robot they built for a 4-H club, service organizations, and the middle and high schools. Members also did 4-H and elementary school STEM camps and mentored FIRST Lego League teams. FIRST — or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is an international organization that sponsors a number of robotics programs.
Judges at the super qualifier meet earlier this month were apparently impressed, since the team walked away with the first place Motivate award. Teams who work to promote FIRST across their school and community are candidates for the award.
In addition, the Wave Droids did a lot of fundraising to pay for robot components and materials needed for their outreach.
“It’s been a pretty big undertaking,” said Potter. But it has expanded his horizons. “I’ve got to do stuff I would’ve never thought I could do,” including a radio interview about the Wave Droids’ season.
FIRST Tech Challenge teams build robots on an 18-inch square base and compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot field. This year’s game is called “Relic Recovery.” Teams operate the robots, which gather and place objects like foam cubes and plastic balls to score points during 2-1/2 minute matches.
In preparation for the championship, Potter said students have been fixing problems with the robot and working on mechanisms for scoring points. They are also updating the engineering notebook, which is a record of their work throughout the season, and polishing up their presentation.
Students are coached by Leslie Potter, Sam’s mom, and another parent, Eric Haaland, and also work with five mentors, most of whom have engineering backgrounds.
“It’s been such an interesting season since we started new last fall,” said Leslie Potter. “We have learned a lot very quickly.”
She has been pleasantly surprised to see how the students have coalesced as a team.
“I don’t think I have ever seen 13 people get along this long so well,” she said, noting their pragmatic approach to accomplishing tasks. “They are not thwarted at all by setbacks.”
Leslie Potter said the students have made many strides in developing technical and speaking skills — which are important for their presentation before judges.
“The student who didn’t want to get up and talk can now do it,” she said, for example.
Haaland said FIRST “really promotes teaching the community and other students about STEM,” or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “It gives them some actual hands-on experiences.”