Category Archives: First Tech Challenge

NCSTA Conference November 15-16th

If you are a Teacher in NC, the North Carolina Science Teachers Association is hosting their annual conference. I will be presenting this year. My topic will be our JPL Open Source Rover we built at our school. Rover Build Roverto is being retrofitted with new parts and electronics. It has become a legacy project at our school and I wanted to share this with other educators in the State.

Want to build a Rover? How do you get started? JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) shared open-source plans for a Rover built in 2018. Learn what it takes to build this Rover and to get your school community involved with this project. Our presentation will review the steps that the Cardinal Gibbons High School Robotics Team took to build JPL Rover and how the school community came together to create a legacy project. Detailed information about how to fund this project, how to find building parts, and how much time to allow for the building of the Rover will be shared. 6-12, College 

Check out the link for the schedule and information about the conference, “Want to Build a Rover

Feel Free to contact me if you have any questions. I will also be presenting at the Middle School Share-A-Thon with someone from AMS about different professional development opportunities.

U.S. Air Force / FIRST® Leadership Experience

One day in June I received a call telling me I had been accepted to the Air Force/ First Leadership Experience. I never expected this one. My Lead mentor/coach forwarded me the information and I applied. Never thought I would get it. But I did, 24 mentors and teachers were selected out of 300 applications. The experience would take place over three days at Wright Patterson AFB  in Dayton, Ohio.

On Sunday night we were treated to a welcome dinner and also received all our little goodies. These included an awesome backpack, pens, coffee travel mug etc. All the things a teacher loves, right? We had a some fun while sharing our experiences with our robotics teams. It was really helpful to listen to others, and how they faced some of the same problems your team faced. At the dinner we meet Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt, Major McKnight, and others. Meeting the Brigadier General was the highlight of the night, she was the first woman pilot in combat. If you want to see some cool things about her check out some of the movies on YouTube or her bio. One of the things she talked about was the need for recruits, right now all branches of the military were looking for people who just wanted to be a part of the military or people who wanted to serve in other ways, civil servants. Even if students don’t want to enlist they could still hold some awesome jobs by becoming civil servants. By supporting First Robotics and attending the competitions she was hoping to bring more awareness the the people about the Air Force. But she also discussed why were there, to learn about leadership and how we could bring this back to our teams.

On the second day we would begin our leadership experience, it started with a meeting and brief introduction with Colonel Michael Phillips, Vice Commander of the 88th Air Base Wing. Then we began our Leadership introduction, I’m not sure what else to call it, but we were introduced to Colonel Gary A Packard, Jr. Vice Dean of the Faculty at the US Air Force Academy. His talk was very enlightening and informative. Using his experiences he went over some suggestions and advice to us about how to form a “holistic” young person. He started by comparing Complicated to Complex. Complex is the skill students will need to deal with the world. Diversity is a part of the world and this country nothing will change that. As a mentor/coach we need to develop both skills. Its not our world it will be their world. Colonel Packard continued by sharing some ideas about what we could do for our team; have them experience other parts of the world. Take the students to an art museum or a music concert. Get them out of their comfort zone, this will help them see the diversity of our world. Teach critical thinking skills, this is something I really need to work on not only on my team but in class too. Challenge the status quo! There was more great advice, but these were the highlights. It was a great talk and I learned a lot from it. I do appreciate him taking the time to talk to us.

After break we came back to work with Lt. Colonel Rosenberg, he presented a variety topics, but his talk was titled “Professionalism Enhancing Human Capital”.  His first question to us is “Why do I do what I do? When you know your “why”, your what has more impact! A leader sets the tone, there are three domains of a leader’s trust technical (knowledge and proficiency), conceptual(ability to work with ideas and concepts) and human(ability to work with people).  The top 3 things that derail high potential leaders are they can’t adapt to change, inability to develop/lead teams and problems with interpersonal relationship. Once they achieve the 3 domains and show commitment, leaders will then get the loyalty and trust from their people. Instead of trust-loyalty-commitment, leaders should display commitment then loyalty and trust will follow. During his discussion he placed a ton of resources on our desks.  Here are a couple: “The Servant” James C. Hunter, “Speed in Trust” Stephen R Covey and “Turn the Ship Around” L. David Marquet. There were others but these were just a few.

To end the day we went to the auditory lab where we were able to experience some of the research being done. No pictures though. The tour was great and the people working there were great tour guides. This ended the day and we went to dinner. What was great was the sharing of ideas and suggestions everyone brought to the table. There were still two more days left for the experience and I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store for us.

The year begins!! 2019

Happy New Year! Another year done and now we head into the last leg of the school year. A lot will be happening in the next couple of the months. After thinking about all that is going on, I think I’ll be just a bit busy.

First, we are rolling out our Mars Rover this month. Hopefully we will name it this month, then we will bring it to NC Museum of Natural Science for Astronomy Weekend. It’s going to be a great weekend for all, the Rover Team and Robotics Team will be running the exhibit. A combination of robots and Mars map will make our exhibit one to remember. (By the way Astronomy Weekend is January 26th and 27th at the NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh).

Next our Robotics team is going be competing in their first Qualifier, so the next couple of weeks will be hectic with getting the Robot ready. By the way the challenge is called Rover Rukus and fits in well with our Rover. Check out the challenge at the First Tech website.

And of course, there is the daily classes to prepare for. I think I sometimes make more work for myself. I’ve discussed this with my colleagues. Instead of going with the lesson I always must change it. But my classes aren’t the same every year. And I’m always looking to improve to the lessons. Isn’t that what teaching being about also?

But of course, I also have to get involved in other things, like the Blogging Challenge sent out by A.J. Juliani, I tried to do this once before it started out great then went downhill. So, I’m trying it again. With all that’s going on I figure this year I can do this! Anyway, one of the benefits is that I get to read some great blogs by people.  And one of them is my colleagues who started blogging for the new year. Check out her blog. She’s a great Physics teacher and has some awesome things happening in class.

By the way if you are interested in naming the Rover, check out twitter @rippie77 with the Hastag #GibbonsMarsRover. And so the year begins!

The End of the season is Here!

Well the FTC robotic season ended with our state competition this year. There were 32 teams at the states, it took place at A & T University in Greensboro.  The day started really early in the morning with hardware, software and field inspections, which we passed. Even though we might not have won the competition or came in the top 5 for Super Regionals we did learn a lot this year or so I think. A major lesson team members learned was that there was more to winning competitions then just the building a winning robot. Our members realized that we need to remember that the engineering notebook and other components of the competition play a major role in winning at competitions. They also realized that winning isn’t everything at competitions the Journey to these competitions was just as important. As one of our mentor/coaches said he was not worried about what we won, he wanted members to learn along the way how to use the design process to build a robot. Making mistakes was just as important as doing things right. Which of course brings up a whole other discussion that we need to allow our students to fail before they can succeed. And we do know that this is becoming a big discussion in the educational field.



The last meeting of the year was held just the other day and our mentor/coaches talked to the team about various components of the year. What worked and what didn’t. What can we improve on and what did we do well this year?  We tried to stick with the positives and one positive was that we improved our engineering book tremendously. In the previous competition we won the Think Award which qualified us for the state tournament. Advice to anybody who is coaching and mentoring a robotics team one of the things I’m learning is that the engineering book is really important and putting the time and effort into it is worth it. I would advise anybody to make sure you have someone in charge of the engineering book that is going to put the effort into making sure the book is complete. We had a an awesome student/member coordinating the notebook.



As a result of the end of the year meeting we came to the conclusion that next year we’re going to have 2 teams so that everybody will have a chance to have hands opportunities with the robot. This means that next year we should be registering two teams for FTC competition. I think this is a great idea because not only will it give everybody a chance to be a part of the decision making with the robots but also I think the younger team members will be able to learn bit more then when you have a larger team. Sometimes the larger teams don’t give young members ability learn because there’s too many people and not enough robot.

So we ended on a really good note by agreeing on what we needed to do to be successful next year in competition.  Now we wait and we’ll see, meanwhile over the summer we already have some outreach going on. We have a week long EV3 Mindstorm robotics summer camp for rising 5th to 9th graders at school, check it out on our school website. Also next month we are going to be at the Triangle Tech Expo at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. So it’s going to be a busy next couple of months with outreach and also preparing for the beginning of next season. Good job by all this year and looking forward to next year.

And We are Off to States-Robotics

Just a bit of an update on Robotics. Actually more of a summary of the year to this point. I neglected to write an entry for the past events, so I’ll catch up here.

We started the year off at Cisco, for the Kickoff to the NC FTC Challenge competition year.  And I will say what a challenge this year.  You can read about the challenge and watch a short video at the NC FTC page. It was a great day, two of our students got a chance to work with Congressman David Price. Half our team presented in different sessions during the day.

robotics      Robotics Kickoff 2015 (1)

Once our team found out the challenge for this year they got to work. The next event was a scrimmage and they didn’t do bad.  New wheels and a base were created using the shopbot and 3D printer. A couple of bumps in the competition but overall they did okay. This is the time the team usually will redo and improve on their build. Hint for mentors and coaches in robotics, give the students as much time as possible and allow them to experiment. Sometimes we need to let them fail to succeed.

Lauren Pettibone robotics tournament (368)-X3

The next event was the qualifier on January 17th held at Cardinal Gibbons, we had 24 teams from around NC come for a day of competition.  This year we hosted the event in the Gym and broadcasted the event. We estimated about 300 people came to watch throughout the day. If you missed it  check it out the broadcast is on High School Cube Channel. Over 600 people have watched so far. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to and had to go back to the drawing board. But that’s the point, making the robot better every time. We had two weeks to improve the robot. Our next qualifier was at Trinity High School. There we did well in our first two matches and then had a servo break on us. Overall the robot ran well. But again we needed to make some more modifications if we were to do well at the next competition. Ended up we won the Think Award, for our engineering book. We qualified for States. So the young men and women who worked hard on the robot are now getting a chance to go to States and try to qualify for the super regionals.

Through this whole thing I think the team learned a great deal about persistence and teamwork. Never expecting to place the team’s hope was to win something so they would qualifier. They did that and also came in second for another award. They might not have won the tournament. But they did well. That is the one good thing about First Robotics, they do give everyone a chance to win something even if they don’t win their matches.

Next stop for the team is States at A& T University in Greensboro on February 20th.

A year with Robotics

I’ve been wanting to write about the Robotics Team and my experience with the program for a while. Since it is becoming a very popular program in schools these days, I thought the information I posted might help those who are starting a program or have one already.  I know I have posted before about robotics. Some things might be the same while others are a look back on how the year went.

First I’ll update the results from the Qualifier at Cardinal Gibbons. As a team we won the Connect Award . The students did a good job talking about all the events and outreach they did during the year. The results and video of the competition can be found at our robotics page. 

Robotics Photo Gallery

After the tournament the team worked on their design. There were problems during the Competition which needed to be addressed. Team members did an awesome job addressing them for the next tournament. Lesson learned here, problem solving and making adjustments to their design so they could improve their tournament performance.  Next stop was the Trinity School Tournament.  The video from the competition is available here. The team won the PTC Design Award. Great achievement. All of the judges awards are located at 2014-2015 NC FTC Qualifier Award Winners .

Again the team worked on improving the robot and this time the State Tournament was the next stop. One of the major areas of the tournament for Robotics is not only the actual robots performing on the field but the team doing well in the interviews. In the last two interviews the team did a good job, but at States they were up against 32 other teams. Definitely needed to be at their best.  The Gibbons team walked away with the PTC Design Award again, but didn’t qualify for the Super Regionals this year. Results haven’t been posted yet. The team was a bit disappointed.  However, there will be other chances, the Robotics Club is here to stay at Gibbons.

As we close our season this year in Robotics, there will be a many changes coming. Many of our students are Seniors and now we will have a whole new team next year. This means a good deal of change for the program. We have already begun our outreach again for this year. Our coaches are more than willing to keep going and working on bettering the team every day.

There are many different ways to get your program support. One of them is having outside companies help with funding. We are lucky because now we have a maker room. This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for our parent supporters. Especially our coaches Mr. Toebes, Mrs. Toebes and Mr. Kelley. Of course there are other parents who have been important to the program, and their support is very important to the success of the program.  They have helped get the equipment, such as the milling machine and 3D printer for the room.  Hint, if you are going to have a program make sure you have parent support. They are very important component to our program. If you are in a situation where you don’t have parent support, you might look at other teachers or industry help. I know there are Robotics teams that have local business people mentoring during the season. Second area of support is the Administration. We are very lucky to have a Principal who believes in the program and willing to support it.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I really am lucky to be a part of this program at Gibbons. Its been a great experience for me.

Halfway Point….

Yep halfway mark is here and it came quick. As I start to get ready to take a break my mind continues to race along to the next semester. How can I improve on last year’s presentations, notes, labs etc.. But I’m also in one of those reflection moods, what went right last semester? Wrong? Not everything was perfect I can tell you that. I think that’s what the halfway point is about, looking back and reflecting on what happened, while looking forward to the New Year.

Lots happened since the beginning of the year. I’ll be brief or try to anyway. I forgot to post about our Robotics Kickoff which was an experience. It took place at CISCO and it was the first time I attended one. They unveiled the field at the time. Which by the way was pretty unique. Check out the game below:

It’s called the FIRST Tech Challenge Season Game: Cascade Effect. And that’s what started the year off. By the way we are hosting the FTC Qualifying tournament again for North Carolina at Gibbons on January 17th. As we get close I will post more information.

Class on the other hand took on a different look. I implemented more “Flipped” material this year. I was lucky and had my choice, should I stick with Discovery or go to Google Classroom. If you don’t have a subscription or availability to Discovery I can understand not using this tool. Google Classroom would probably be better. But you need to have an education account for this, which means your school needs to have accounts. So both have certain requirements.

I found for my class I preferred Discovery for a couple of reasons. Ease of grading, Google Forms need add-ons to grade. And it can get complicated. I’ve put in the “suggestion” box for Google that they make this a bit easier for teachers. There are tons of video tutorials that help you work with the add-ons like Flubaroo, Octopus and Goobric. All can be integrated with Google Classroom.  Not saying these tools aren’t great, because they are. A colleague of mine, loves them and has really utilized them in her physics classroom. Actually she has become quite the Google Guru. But I really haven’t had a chance to try these. I’m more of a Discovery person. Now that might change if the school decides to just go with Google. So eventually I’ll have to get better at it.

But for now I’ll talk about Discovery and leave Google for a later date. I used a couple of features in Discovery this year that really helped with the Flipped material. One was embedding the video in an assessment and having students answer questions on it. This worked great because it actually told me who watched the video. But one of the best things I came to find most useful was the Mastery graph and the ability to go over questions. The mastery graph was really helpful, especially on assessments.


The great thing about this is it is generated by discovery for all your concept assessments. You can see specifics when viewing the assessment report.


Again all generated by Discovery. One reason why I use it for my flipped material and other material. A bit easier than Google, I think any way. If you have the opportunity to try it I would. I believe you can utilize this even with a free subscription. You don’t need a paid subscription.

So those are the main reasons why I haven’t switched to Google like others. There are probably ways to do it in Google and trust me I’m going to find out when I have a chance. Not a bad idea to have another way of doing things just in case.

Well holidays are a welcome sight this year. I’ll be playing catch up. Trying to get ahead a bit. That would be nice for once. J

Summer Robotics Course

So I decided to just write a brief entry on a summer robotics course I took in July. I know its been a while, since my last entry. That’s in part due to the school starting near the beginning of August and its been pretty busy for first month.  But during the summer I got the opportunity to learn some programming through Carnegie Melons Robotics Academy.

The course I took was given by Carnegie Mellon, Robotics Academy. The course Lego/Tetrix Professional Development was given online during the month July.  It was a week of learning about Programming robots and using Tetrix parts. I did the week long course in July , it was in the afternoon from 3-5 pm.

rembot     textris

One of the great components of the course was the Robot C programming lessons. During the week I pretty much got a crash course in Robot C. A bit more complicated then the Lego program, this program (Robot C), was used for the NXT and EV3.  The amount of information I learned during the week was amazing. There were various assignment requirements, that included programming a robot.  Had some help with last two challenges, thanks to our Robotics Coaches and especially Margaret Toebes. There were a total of 4 challenges. All included programing challenges. The building part I found easy, programing I think is bit more difficult.

Robo500         sentry


Overall the course really gave me insight into the First Robotics and programming. The only advice I would give about taking the course, if you want to take it slowly you might want to take it once a week. The 5 day course was pretty intense and fast.  Otherwise  I learned a lot.

Lessons of Robotics

Second day is in the books and wow what a day. I’m beginning to understand how important practice is to robotics. The team went through some lessons for the competition. Our day started early since we were the first match of the day.  For matches, you have the blue alliance and red alliance, we teamed with another team to form the blue alliance. Our autonomous program worked really well, this is when the robot runs itself. Then we hit a bit of trouble, called static electricity. When one of the other robots hit ours it sent a static charge through our NXT, freezing it. Not a good thing. Our partners did really well scoring points on blocks and raising the flag (if you need to see rules go here).  Immediately afterwards the team repaired the robot and had to get ready for their next match. No time to sulk over the problem. Great teaching moment!

DSC_0071       DSC_0150


Match two was a better. They were part of the blue alliance again and in this match they did a double hang, it fell a bit so they didn’t receive points for this move. But what a great try and they even impressed the MC. I’ll try to explain this as best as I can. This is when the our robot picks up another robot and hangs on the bar. Something very hard to do. Of course, Coach Toebes was impressed and happy. We lost this match by only two points. They came back from the match in good spirits having done well.

Match three ended on a good note they won the match. Their alliance did really well and they were becoming one of the best defensive robots at the competition (personal opinion here and Mr. Toebes agreed).  Match four didn’t end well, the motor on one of the wheels went out. So they couldn’t steer the robot correctly.

DSC_0084         DSC_0154

Overall they did well, but Friday’s competition they needed to win both matches if they even wanted a chance to be a part of an alliance. Also they were hoping to win the Design Award by PTC. Mr. Toebes thought this was possible but they needed to show they could help win a match.

This whole day was a great lesson in perseverance . When the robot didn’t work they needed to learn from that and move on. They had to fix it and continue to compete, the competition was no where near being over. Lessons all day long, hence the title of this blog. I’ll be the first one to admit that this experience really represented the best of STEM. I was really happy to be a part of this event. 

Friday was another day of competition.

Robotics Tournament

Finished! And it was a great success. According to everyone who participated in the event. We had over 500 live views on our broadcast at High School Cube. It was the second most watched event at Cardinal Gibbons since we started broadcasting live. Over 300 people attended the event. A special shout out to all the volunteers who worked. We were lucky in that we had a number of volunteers from Cisco. We also had teacher, parent and student volunteers working throughout the day. To read a brief summary of the event you can see an article written by our development person (thanks Rachelle) on our school web page. You can also find the rules to the qualifying matches. The event was called FTC Block Party gameFirst Tech Challenge of NC helped with various areas of the tournament. Their support throughout the tournament was appreciated. Various other people like our Principal Mr. Curtis and Assistant Principal Mr. C both supported and helped with the event. Their support was greatly appreciated during the planning and executing phase of the tournament.

Robotics_by_Ryan_Ruff (10)             Robotics_by_Ryan_Ruff (288)


More photos are available at our school smugmug page. The purpose of the blog entry is not to go over the whole event; you can read about that on the school web page. It’s about sharing pointers to someone who might be planning on holding a robotics tournament.

First I would recommend you have a meeting with your administrators to make sure you have the materials, facilities, and support. I had tons of meetings with my administrators and maintenance to make sure we had what we needed. When we didn’t,  we had to go outside the school for it. We were lucky because our Coaches were amazing and made sure whatever we didn’t have at school we brought in.

Second make sure you have your community involved. We had over 25 Parent volunteers and 30 student volunteers. All of them helped to make event go as smooth as possible. If I had a shortage of people for somewhere, there was a volunteer waiting to fill in. We also had the support of the science department. Even though we had just put on our Science Festival about a week or two before, the science teachers agreed to volunteer and help with tournament. Our judges and referees came from Cisco. Again volunteers. NC First did provide a couple of volunteers to help out. Overall this was the most important component of this event. If you don’t have the volunteers to run the event, well then your in trouble.

Third, make sure you schedule it on the calendar way before anything else. If I had to go back I wouldn’t have the science festival and tournament so close. But that was nobody’s fault it just happened that way. Also, food, we had our concession stand open all day. I really think we only needed it open right before lunch and maybe a couple hours after lunch. Usually teams will bring their own snacks. In the cafeteria we had the ability to assign one table for each team. We hoped this would keep the food out of our classrooms. It did. I might add that the teams did an awesome job in cleaning up and keeping everything clean.

Last, use Google Docs to help you organize the event. I can’t tell you how awesome the forms and spreadsheets were for organizing volunteers. I created a form for the event with two hour time slots for different volunteer spots. It worked great, I could share the documents with the organizing committee and change times or add times when needed on the fly. I really do like Google Docs, and now that our school has set up an account with them its becoming easier to use. One thing, advice keep a watch on your time slots so you can close them when filled. I had too many people at a certain time and then no volunteers at another time. I wonder if there is a script you can use in Google? Not sure, but there are tons of templates in Google you can use.

I hope I helped anyone who is organizing an event like a robotics competition or science event.  I really was on the side of organization, the Coaches took care of the technical side. I did enjoy watching the matches and our team Purple Gears 2901 did well and earned the PTC Design Award. Again a big thanks to our volunteers, NC First Tech Challenge and Cisco.