By Joe Slifka / April 18, 2020

Rise together: Being a ‘Force for Change’ in different times

The 2020 season for the LaBrae High School robotics team, The RoboVikes, ended on Thursday, March 12. We weren’t planning to finish so early, but, like much the rest of the country, our school was shut down and ordered to remain closed for three weeks. That was more than five weeks ago now. In Ohio, we are currently in “shelter in place” mode with only essential businesses remaining open, with plans to reassess the COVID-19 situation in early May. 

As we navigate these different times, I wanted to share some moments we had during our season and ways that teams can stay connected and continue to build your skill sets. 

Rewind the Moments

This year, we dubbed ourselves “seasoned rookies,” as it was no longer our first year of competing at the FIRST® Tech Challenge. Last season, we competed in just one competition for the ROVER RUCKUS challenge. After we finished, the team and I felt a bit of postseason blues, so we decided to choose to compete in two competitions for the SKYSTONE℠ season. And I couldn’t be more pleased with how our team performed this year!

At our first competition, much like our rookie showing from the year before, we finished in the middle of the pack. Our biggest “oopsie” of the day happened 25 minutes into the hour-long bus ride – we had forgotten the controllers! All good though, thanks to our awesome physics teacher, Mrs. Paster, daughter of our very own Coach Farone, who drove up to the school to bring them to us in time for inspection! One of the proudest moments I had was watching our team communicate with kids from the other teams, talking about trials and tribulations they’ve overcome since the bus ride this season. 

We also used the FIRST competition as a gauge to see how our robot design and element-retrieval system worked. The claw designed by sophomore Aidan M. was connected to a servo at a single point, so it was constantly loosening up on us. After the competition, my senior student helper, Nathan S., devised a solution to give the claw support on both sides of the rotating axle without impeding functionality and increased the reliability of the solution by a factor of 10!

At our second tournament of the season, our robot was controlled by Aidan M. and freshman Larry K. These two had spent many practice sessions honing their driving skills in the pit on our classroom floor. Our Engineering Notebook team was a group effort, but I need to give a shout-out to our seniors, Olivia, Casey, and Stephanie, and our junior, Mara for their efforts. Noah was a great PR guy for the team, and Troy was our lead CAD person.

I feel awful for our seniors. This isn’t how their last year was supposed to go, but it is better to come through all this and look back and think maybe we overreacted than to go through it and underreact and have to deal with the fallout from that.

Our junior high team competed just a few days prior to the school being shut down and earned second place overall at a local LEGO®-based competition. We have a great group of seventh graders who crave the spark of excitement and enthusiasm that I haven’t seen for awhile. This year, we welcomed our youngest group of RoboVikes while we are also seeing our founding team members finish their careers at LaBrae.

Staying Connected at a Distance

So, where does that leave us for the 2020 season? Like many, many other FIRST Tech Challenge teams, we are helping local health-care workers by 3-D printing PPE (face shields and N95 masks) and donating them.

We’ve had a virtual meeting that was a bit chaotic (as it was for nearly every teacher across the country learning how to teach remotely), but we plan to do some more of those in the future.

We always finish our year with a party called The Bricksby’s. This event is the only day of the year I wear my tuxedo T-shirt. Each student gets a gag certificate, a real certificate, and some walking tacos! We also have a handful of awards we give out such as Rookie of the Year, Exceptional Engineering Award, Distinguished Service, and a Mentor’s Award. Although the season is over, this absolutely will not be the year we don’t have an award ceremony – it’ll just be a little different. Students might get their awards in the mail, maybe I’ll drop them off on their porch, who knows. What I do know is that I might never eat a walking taco again . . . 50 bags of chips absolutely wrecked my quarantine diet!

Want some more ideas to continue your team’s relationship and skills? Try out some of these:

Feel free to follow our socials, @RoboVikes, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Stay safe and stay healthy friends.


TOPICS: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM, IDEAS & INSPIRATION, ROBOTICS, Teacher Resources, Collaborations, FIRST Tech Challenge, Technology, Trends, Resources, Activities, TETRIX Robotics, 21st Century Skills, innovate, Workforce Development, 3-D Printing

Joe Slifka

Written by Joe Slifka

Hi there! I am the technology teacher for LaBrae Local School District in Leavittsburg, OH. I’m passionate about integrating robotics in daily lessons and helping students become creators through technology. In my 13th year of teaching, I created an after-school robotics club and love the freedom of teaching everything from robotics to 3-D printing.