Just because it’s not the competition season doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with FIRST. Whether you’re finished with school for the summer or just anxiously waiting for kickoff, here are some ideas for what to do with the other half of the FIRST calendar year.
1. Team Bonding
While many would argue that building the robot and competition are the highlight of the bonding experience, take this time to come together as a team some more. Whether it’s watching movies, having team cookouts or playing games in the team room/classroom, use the off season to come together and reflect on the year. For example, my FTC team would give out a picture of the team every year at an “end of season cookout” where the families were also invited. I know that other teams gave out awards or DVD’s of the year’s events. By seeing each other during the off season, it’s much easier to jump right back into the swing of things come the fall/winter.
As many veteran FTC and FRC teams know, the offseason is OPPORTUNE for fundraising. This is THE TIME to get your financials in order, as the competition and build seasons are often too hectic. Take these months to work on your business plan and budget; there are some great links on the FIRST website and the First Ladies website to help get you started (http://www.firstinspires.org/resource-library/ftc/fundraising-resources ). Need some advice? Don’t hesitate to reach out to veteran teams!
3. Field Trips
Now these don’t just have to be engineering, or robotics or STEM field trips- as any field trip is bonding! But as FIRST is an organization that promotes science and technology, use this time to take the team somewhere that they might not have had the opportunity to or the time to during the build season. In New England? Head to the FIRST Headquarters or FIRST Place in New Hampshire. In Florida, Alabama, Texas or California? Check out the various NASA centers and museums. Of course, there’s also LEGOLand in Denmark, the UK, California, Germany, Florida, Malaysia, and the UAE. FLL and FLL jr Teams already know what the research topic is for the year, so start some preliminary research; visit a veterinarian, an animal shelter, or a service dog organization. High school and middle school students may enjoy visiting any engineering schools or design shows that are in town.
My team had an engineering student mentor who gave us a tour of her school, Olin College of Engineering, during the summer. It was amazing to hear about what kind of classes the students take and to learn about their projects. We all left the tour saying “we can do that!” Keep in mind that many colleges in the United States are close to empty over the summer, and that a tour with a student who is doing summer research, or a professor who teaches freshman or teaches classes that sound interesting to your team (ie Robotics, Programming, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering etc) may also be a good guide!
4. Prepare for Next Season!
Take this time to prep for the 2016-2017 season, especially if you’re a rookie team. What went well? What can you improve on? FLL and FLL jr teams: have you checked out the LEGO ® website for new bricks? Since your teams can use any LEGO ® brick, axel, wheel, etc be on the lookout now for new parts that could help you during the game this season.
FRC and FTC teams will need to try a different approach since your hardware won’t be determined until the competition. Instead, try focusing on what you know you CAN improve on: CAD, electrical, programming (kind of hard I know) and game strategy. In order to do this, look back on the past 20+ years of FIRST games. How would you have designed your robot? Was your team around for these competitions? How would you have redesigned your team’s robot? What did the winning robots (for example from 2010) have that really made it stand out and win? Or you can just….
5. Go To Off Season Events
Off season events are a GREAT way to get more exposure to FIRST, especially for FTC and FRC teams that may be only able to attend one or two events a year due to budget and time constraints. Check the FIRST website for an official list. While there are not that many compared to the competition season, I’d argue that wherever there’s a robot… it’s an event! Remember, the community LOVES to see, hear and learn about your robot and your team. Smaller community events are wonderful ways to practice during the offseason. It’s a great way to get the message out about FIRST and it also provides a non-competitive way for you to practice public speaking, driving the robot and can get you funding if you meet the right people!
So go out there and make the most of your off season. Have fun and don’t forget to bring your gracious professionalism!
Team Unlimited. “2006 Sharon FVC Team Reunion Party .” Sharon Youth Robotics 2013. 26 May 2016. <http://www.syraweb.org/eaglevex/TeamReunion2006.htm>
Team Unlimited. “FVC Promotion- Blackstone, Quincy & Robonautics FLL tournaments.” Sharon Youth Robotics 2013. 26 May 2016. < http://www.syraweb.org/eaglevex/FVCpromotion2005.htm>
Gawle, Julia. “Robotics.” Facebook. 8 March 2009. 3 Oct 2015. <www.facebook.com>
This blog was written by Michelle Parziale. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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