3D Printing with the Tiger Hawks

By Coach Michelle | The team is using 3D printing as an element of their STEM project, and this morning a few of them met their technology teacher, Mr. Schmitz, in the lab at school to fire off prints of some models they made in TinkerCAD.

Mr. Schmitz and the Tiger Hawks 3D printingIf you’ve wondered about 3D printing and have access to a printer, TinkerCAD is a simple and intuitive way to create models that can be printed on a wide range of common 3D printers. A few of the controls take some fiddling to understand, but there are great “how to” videos available to decrease the learning curve. Three of our team members have created models in TinkerCAD, and were ready to see what they’d look like as printed objects.

Tiger Hawk Bethany watching the MOD-t 3D printerPrinting a 3D object on the school’s MOD-t printers, made by New Matter, ended up being almost as easy as printing on my laserjet at home. New Matter’s print engine verifies that your model is printable, and that it fits on the printer’s base plate. If there’s a problem like an oversized object, the software tells you right away and offers some solutions.

Tiger Hawk 3D model on the 3D printerAt the “balanced” setting, which shoots for a happy compromise between print time and print quality, most of the team’s models took less than an hour each to print. The final products matched their visions, for the most part, but a few of their models will require some minor modifications back in TinkerCAD before they try printing again.

We’re lucky to have a well-equipped technology lab at the school that’s available for student use, and a knowledgeable and helpful teacher to work with the kids!


Missing O-rings: You learn things, even when you think you’re teaching

By Coach Doug | Success at a VEX IQ Crossover match depends on so many things, and you never expect it to hinge on whether there are missing O-rings.

We went to the Central Firehawks tournament this weekend at Longmont’s Westview Middle School. It was a great tournament, and extremely well run with help from Axel and the Innovation Center staff and students.

I was pushy, and sent a list of suggestions on how the fields should be checked based on previous experience—the bridge is so hard on the tournament volunteers and managers. There are hours invested in building it, and if it isn’t perfect it won’t work well. Axel and the tournament managers graciously thanked me for my pushiness, and assured me that they’d ask for help if anything came up.

So, learning while teaching?

All those emails that said “we’re experts in construction of the fields, and we’re happy to check them for you,” that’s being the expert. Turns out, I failed at it.

At a recent event with Team 974X, Chazak, they noticed that the O-rings were missing from the pegs on the walls. Their robot (and ours) relies on being able to reliably pick up balls from the wall and score them. When Chazak touched any ball, it fell off much too easily. They knew there was a problem, and figured out that parts were missing.

This weekend, hex balls were again falling off the walls with the slightest touch. We forgot about the O-rings.

We’d seen a great team notice the missing O-rings just a few weeks ago. Then at this weekend’s competition, an Innovation Center student asked me, “Did you change your program? Your bot is always more reliable than this!” during a programming skills match. All of the signs were there.

I never checked.

Last night, as we watched videos of this weekend’s matches, my daughter pointed out how easily the hex balls fell, even when barely touched (there’s a clip near the bottom of this post). She zoomed in on a video, and sure enough … it looks like the O-rings were missing. Even with all the clues, I never thought to check the problem—it was easier to write it off to nervous 3rd-6th grade drivers.

No missing O-rings? ✔ Check.

For our next tournament, we’ll make a checklist of the field elements that matter to our robot. This weekend (and our second instance of missing O-rings!) was a learning experience—even for this guy, who foolishly said “I’m an expert” before the event. I plan to talk to the team at our next practice: learn from your mistakes and do better next time. I even plan to take my own advice.

We’ve seen the best competitive teams over the last two years check the field and its elements every single match. We’re working to become one of those teams, both as we teach and as we learn.

Missing o-rings on the VEX IQ Crossover field can be trouble
What the O-rings and pegs look like when installed correctly
VEX IQ o-rings and pegs with a ruler for scale
Pegs and O-rings with an inch ruler for scale; they’re tiny but important parts!

This is the kind of behavior we’ve seen from hex balls that are attached to the wall on pegs with missing O-rings. The hex balls are much less stable, and normally well-behaved robots knock balls off left and right.

When hex balls are attached to the wall on pegs that include O-rings, it’s more difficult to knock them off unintentionally.

Central Firehawks VEX IQ Challenge earned us a Middle School Excellence Award!

By Coach Michelle | The team had a great day at this tournament, and was honored with a Middle School Excellence Award, the highest award presented in the VEX IQ Challenge. They also brought home another Skills Champion trophy; got a perfect score from the judges on their design, interview, and engineering notebook; and presented their STEM project for the first time with very good results. These kids continue to work so hard, and make us coaches and parents so proud!

January 7 VEX IQ Trophies were Robot Skills Champion and the Middle School Excellence Award

Northridge Elementary VEX IQ Tournament qualified us for State Championship!

By Bethany | The Northridge Elementary VEX IQ tournament went VERY well for our team. Our average for teamwork was 34.2 points! Our combined skills score was 108, which puts us at 15th in the world (then we later found out that we’re actually 10th!)! We were very proud of our Sportsmanship trophy, because sportsmanship was one of our weaknesses at previous competitions and scrimmages. For the first time ever, other teams were high-fiving when they got paired with us!!! The three trophies we received were Sportsmanship (yay!), Teamwork Champions, and Skills Champions. The tournament told us that there weren’t enough teams for Teamwork to qualify us for state, but shortly after we heard that they were wrong and we did qualify for state! Yay! They didn’t have the trophy for Sportsmanship, but promised they’ll get it to us later.

Trophies from Northridge Elementary VEX IQ Tournament were Teamwork Champion, Robot Skills Champion, and Sportsmanship

The Rocky Mountain Rumble and a trophy for Programming Skills Champion!

By Bethany | Today was our first competition, with 41 teams. We did lots of programming and driving skills runs, and finally our program scored 30 points. For most of the programming runs, the program overshot the bridge, so that’s something we’ll need to fix. Driving skills went well, and we scored 33 points twice, same as at the scrimmage. Our combined driving and programming score was 63, so we were the Robot Skills Champion team for the event. We had the highest programming score, so we got a trophy for programming. The boys like holding it over their heads victoriously.

The teamwork challenges didn’t go very well. We never got two robots on the bridge, and we think that we may need to redesign and make it narrower.

VEX IQ Programming Skills trophy

Build/Skills/Scrimmage in Loveland was a great start to the competition season

By Bethany | Today we had a scrimmage at the community center in Loveland. We hoped to see what other team’s robots looked like but most teams were just starting. Some teams had clawbots but we were one of two teams (the other was Juggernaught, from the Berthoud Robotics club) with more complicated robots. We did lots of practice for the driving skills challenge with a score of 3 in our first match and 33 by the end of the day.

In a scrimmage teamwork match with the team Juggernaught, we were able to get two robots on a balanced bridge and scored 36 points. We have started coming up with ways to score in the goals within the 1-minute time limit.

On a balanced bridge with Juggernaught