27 May 2006

The Year In Review - Awards Night 05/26/2006

Seems that I may have started something last year when I created this year in review thing... It gives me an opportunity to reflect on things that have gone down since last May, and consider the future of Team 166, Chop Shop...

Some things went well, others not so well. When we moved into the school, I had grand visions of this team flourishing in its new home. What really happened wasn’t like that at all, in fact, it reminds me more of a family who’ve moved into a new home and are trying to live out of the packing cartons. We didn’t know where anything was, we only knew that Mr. P (your resident packrat) grabbed up anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down in the Rear Mill. We have it all, but we can’t find anything. What’s up with that?

Communication was a problem, most of the faculty and administrators really didn’t know who this bunch of students were and what they were up to for 6 intense weeks in the winter. They only knew that they were busy, focused and learning something. It didn’t occur to me until we were finished what being at Canal St. meant. We had resources to draw upon, just downstairs in the model shop; we had the stuff Nashua had left behind to build with, we had a source of materials we could use to build prototypes with... we left that behind... that stuff WAS nailed down... It was almost as though we were starting from scratch, like a rookie team.

A major item that fell beside the wayside was training. Not having the resources at the school until just before Christmas break made it impossible. Of all the things that were discussed at the lessons learned meeting, the lack of training was on the top of everyone’s list. Year 2 here at MHS will most certainly be different.

You all continue to amaze me with your capabilities, and at the same time you frustrate me with what seems to be apathy. But in reality, it is that you all being and doing what you do best... you’re being teenagers, and share a hobby called FIRST.

Since I’ve been referred to as “Older than Dirt”, and in some ways that’s true, I have to admit that my teen years are way too far in the past for me to remember them with any clarity. I’ve been in your shoes, but they wore out long ago and I’ve forgotten how comfortable they may have been. So, I ask your forgiveness for those times when I was grumpier than usual... Some of you know how to push my buttons, many of which are easy to poke at.

Some of you have been more active at pushing my buttons than others. You know who you are...and I know that I wouldn’t want it any other way. You’ve taken a ration of heat from me too, but in the end, there’s still a large helping of care going around. Could you have done things better?? Sure, and I can say the same thing about myself. We’ve all learned things from each other and grown better for it. Every day is a learning experience, a gift to be cherished.

So, about that robot... Given everything that led up to its production, I have to say that I am pretty proud of what you all accomplished. This year’s game was the most challenging so far and the robot had many more tasks to perform. The Granite State Regional was, as I have been told, a disappointment for some, but for me, I had a great sense of accomplishment. This year’s game was more complicated, had more choices to make with the robot design, and you all decided on a course of action and went for it. We even made weight, for the second year! It was a stretch to do it, but it happened.

You also critiqued yourselves that weekend, and came to the mentors wanting to make some changes for the competition in Atlanta. To me, that showed a lot of initiative and dedication, and the follow up meeting we had to decide on that course of action demonstrated that drive. It showed the mentors something too, about how this team wants to work. You have shown what the heart and soul of this team is all about. How about this... why don’t we build the robot in the shop next year?? Where all the tooling is?? Ya think?

Atlanta was something else too, and never was it more evident that this is a student-run team than in the pits. Who remembers the team of mentors right across the pit aisle from us? Not even the “token student” there for appearances. Many times our pits didn’t even have the “token mentor.” I have a request. Can you come up with something, like that shovel you see road crews leaning on, for the mentors to prop themselves up with when we’re hanging around the pits? I don’t know about the other mentors, but I could use the help standing up. Maybe a two-speed, pneumatically-shifted racing walker... Ross, you wanna get on that, please??

Because of the planning that was done by you before leaving for Atlanta, you allowed yourselves and us the luxury of free time to attend many of the seminars offered by FIRST during the competition. I think that I can speak for the mentors when I say “Thanks for that opportunity.” That wouldn’t have happened if you all didn’t own the robot the way that you do. Those of us who attended those seminars came away with a lot of good information. I stood above the pits and looked down, watched you work independently. How cool is that, I thought. Then I looked over at that “other team’s” pit... You can guess what I didn’t see...

Seniors: Some of you have been with the team for all 4 years, some not, but you will all be missed; gone but not forgotten. Team 166 has benefited from your presence; we hope that Team 166 has left an impression on you as well. We have changed each others’ lives in many ways, all of it for the better. Usually, when someone moves on, an obligatory “Good Luck” is shouted out... not tonight, for you all will create your own good fortune, you will not wait for that elusive “Lady Luck” to smile upon you. I ask only one thing... stay in touch, stay involved, make a difference. I know that you can.

Juniors: Next year will be your last, so what are you thinking about? What do you want to see this team accomplish? Where do you want to see it go and who do you want to take with you on this wonderful journey? With a year to go, after your second year contributing to the team’s efforts, I see many of you stepping up to the challenges, speaking up and letting the mentors know what you want and need.

Sophomores: Some of you are new this year, others have seen the games played before. Some of you are going to be tasked with greater responsibility. Are you up to the challenge? From what I have seen, you have the ability and desire, and so it is entirely possible for you junior leaders to make a difference.

Freshman: I honestly don’t know how many of you there are, you have certainly not been the timid members, new to the team, trying to learn the ropes. You seem to have done that well, and fit into the team’s structure easily. Now that a year has passed and you’ve seen how things work, it’s time for you to step up too, make your ideas known and be passionate about them. Part of working in a team such as this is that not everybody agrees with everything, and that’s OK.

Mentors: Thanks for putting up with me. I can be hard to work with sometimes

...OK... more often than not...

my emotion and passion for this team’s success are not easily concealed. If I have offended anyone, I humbly offer a sincere apology and hope that you will all stick with this crew and be part of their successes.

What’s down the road: As I had alluded to earlier, we will be developing a training plan to address that void that was so clearly identified. I am expecting that over the summer, we will be meeting to create this plan, most of which exists only in my head, rattling around like a b-b in a boxcar. Oh, by the way, the “we” I am referring to includes team members...

So, stay tuned to the groups, on the lookout for planning meetings...

14 May 2006

What's next, Virgil??

Things have been somewhat slow. The biggest thing is the preparation for the end-of-year banquet.

What's been happening there is the flurry of activity around the yearbook. Past years have been taken for granted, there was a sponsor's employee who took care of the yearbooks for both teams sponsored. Several of us were involved, but late in the game.

The team really likes the idea of the book, but there are few who want to spend time on it. Like everything else, requests go out, and no one listens, or that's how it appears to me.

For the past two years, the hurculean task of assembling the images, putting them into powerpoint format and adding things that personalize the book were done by too few people. I was one of those, who at the last minute, spent lots of time futzing around with the pages. We are fortunate to have access to our sponsor's printshop, and the task of printing the 60+ copies isn't one of those tasks I had to worry about.

I resolved that this year, I would not have anything to do with the book directly. And what I am hearing is a whole lot of whining from everyone about the amount of work it is, how tedious it is, etc. I, very bluntly, said to the team that unless some of them stepped up and took over from where Terry left off (she created 100+ pages with tons of images and text), and that if the completed work wasn't in my hands by May 15, there wouldn't be a yearbook this year. I added also that if this was the demonstration of the effort they were willing to expend, then there wouldn't be a yearbook next year either.

Rather harsh, but so what. I am sick of having to coax the team into doing anything.

On another front, I started looking at what it would take to get an introduction to engineering curriculum into the school. Seems that the flurry of sales activity of VEX robotics kits sparked an idea that would allow introduction of VEX into the FIRST program. The little kits are perfect for hands-on training of engineering principles, problem solving and teamwork.

We decided to spend the money and acquired three kits. Then I got to thinking about getting into the school, formally, with these kits. The full price isn't outrageous, and if one considers funding via a grant, the whole shebag can be done for less than $7000. One of the school administrators listened to my idea and was very receptive, so much so, that he did some of his own investigations and even proposed expanding the program to 20 students.

We have a formal quotation from the supplier of the kits and an online curriculum, the bottom line is also a one-time cost to get started. I am now actively seeking a grant.

More later.