Hollis Montessori School competes in major robotics contest

When you think of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), you might think of the organization in which students in grades seven through 12 can form a team of students, build a robot designed to perform certain tasks, and compete against other teams.

But FIRST is more than just robots. FIRST is a program that gives students ages 6-18 a unique chance to get to exercise their brains and their talents in ways they would usually not be able to, as well as give them great skills to use in their future. On top of that, FIRST has teamed up with about 200 scholarship providers to give out almost $25 million in scholarships for students going into college, most of which can be used for any degree, not just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees.

There are several different leagues in FIRST Robotics: FIRST Lego League Jr, FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC). Our team, the Hollis Montessori School FTC Team 8888 Infinity Factor, is one of the almost 4,200 FTC teams that exist worldwide. Our team just finished our second season, and we’d like to tell you a bit about our team and what we’ve done this season.

Overall, our team had a great season. We started off by holding an FTC info night where the original five team members made a slideshow about FIRST and our team, and then presented it to students from Hollis Brookline Middle School, some of whom joined our team. Two students on our team then took the slideshow and made a presentation at the middle school. By the time the event was over, the students and parents were already recruiting members, mentors, picking meet dates – and a new team was born. It was a truly enriching experience to be able to share the treasure that FIRST is with other students just like us. We even got to compete against the Hollis Brookline Middle School team, FTC Team Voltage.

Once we got our challenge, our team got to work brainstorming ideas for what aspects of the challenge we wanted our robot to achieve. We copied all of our ideas into our Engineering Notebook, which also included short write-ups about important events for our team, and changes we made to the robot. At our competitions, the judges look over our Engineering notebook and score us on aspects such as the quality and amount information, and how organized it is.

For our first couple of competitions, our robot had a giant metal arm to help us achieve one of our tasks – climbing a ramp with rungs on it and hanging on a bar at the top. We found that the arm made the robot unbalanced and did not work very well. We scouted out the other teams’ robots and their methods in achieving the same goals. One team had a genius idea, in which they used a tape measurer with a hook at the end to climb the mountain. After more brainstorming, the hardware team got to work designing and modifying a tape measurer that would get the job done; and they did it!

In total, our team participated in three meets and the league championships in Wolfeboro. During finals, we were invited to compete with the top seeded team. We won in the semifinals, but lost in the finals. We also won the Motivate Award, an award given to teams who have done a great job with reaching out to others and helping motivate them in FIRST Robotics. These awards allowed us to move on to the Massachusetts State Finals on Saturday, Feb. 27. There were some pretty amazing robots there and we happily finished in the middle of the pack, though we did not move on from that competition.

A great thing about FIRST is that you don’t have to be interested in building or programming to be a vital part of the team. As one of our mentors, John Longan, said, "FTC is really a tremendous program because it gives kids experience in tackling real-world problems and team skills that they typically won’t get at school. As an engineering director, I’ve seen over and over how much more prepared kids who’ve participated in FIRST prior to college are compared to those without similar experience. And, they’re having such fun in the process, they don’t even know how much they’re learning."

One of the main jobs on a robotics team is marketing. This year, marketing had a lot on their plate. We started off with sending letters to last season’s sponsors asking them to sponsor us again this season, along with a brochure including all the information about rewards for different levels of sponsorships, and what the sponsorship money would go towards. We were extremely lucky to get all of our sponsors back from last year, and even a new sponsor. A big thanks to Farm Design, 465Media, Technology Garden, the A-Z family and Ducal Development; your sponsorships are what makes our team able to do what we do. We also received many generous donations from our Hollis Montessori School community, and from extended family members. Also, a big thank you to Ansus for the sponsorship for next year, it’s always a huge relief to have a little leeway at the beginning of a season.

If your family or business would like to be a sponsor for Infinity Factor Robotics for next season, email us at team8888.students@gmail.com, or for more information on our team visit us at infinityfactorrobotics.com, or find us on Facebook. If you’d like to donate online, go to hollismontessori.org/robotics.

Donations are tax deductible.