With FIRST Robotics, Intermediate School Programmers Grow Through Trial and Error
by St. Andrew's Communications Staff
In their first competition, the Intermediate School FIRST LEGO League robotics team notched a top-10 finish in a crowded field, achieving a higher score than some middle school teams at the ages 9-14 event at the Universities at Shady Grove. For this team of third- and fifth-graders, however, the day’s triumph was not just their ranking - it was having a robot that was able to compete at all.
The team, which includes Feynman ’28, Lucas ‘26, Matilda ’28, Alex ’26, Zach ’26, and Nick ‘26, spent three months programming their LEGO Mindstorms robot in preparation for the January competition, where they would be assigned a series of tasks for their robot to complete on a lunar-landing themed playing field.
When the team arrived and tested the robot, competition officials alerted them to a fatal error in the code. It turned out to be a misunderstanding of the rules for where the robot body could be on the field – the robot’s arm was outside the home zone, and unless it moved back to be with the body in the home zone, every run would be disqualified.
The team was not discouraged. The team set up shop on their practice mat and started editing every program so the robot arm would begin each run elevated and in the home zone.
Zach said the challenge revealed he had a cooler head than he had previously realized.
“I don’t crack under pressure as much as I do in football,” Zach said.
This accomplishment can be attributed to sharp programming skills, but also to soft skills students picked up from participating in FIRST robotics. Lucas said he has learned how to grow from failure and rely on his teammates.
“I enjoy a lot of the coding, even if I make mistakes. I get a tiny bit angry, but I’m sometimes okay with it. I usually just shrug it off and keep working,” he said. “Even if you get mad, you still need help. You definitely can’t do it alone. If you do it alone, that won’t work out as well.”
“Coding here, it’s like guess and check. Every time you run the program, you guess what it’s going to be,” Alex said. “After you do that, you refine the program and tweak it a little bit and run it again and keep tweaking it until it does the program and it actually finishes it. When you finish a program, you feel very accomplished.”
All St. Andrew’s students learn to program LEGO Mindstorms robots in Middle School science, while Upper School students can work with Arduinos in our Robotics and Design Thinking course. Students can enrich their study through FIRST robotics teams in all divisions as well as the Girls Who Code club for girls in third through eighth grades.