FIRST Tech Challenge is a high school robotics program offered by FIRST, whose mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills.
FIRST offers four different programs geared toward specific grade levels: Junior FIRST LEGO League, for students in grades K-3; FIRST LEGO League, for students in grades 4-8; FIRST Tech Challenge, for students in grades 7-12; and FIRST Robotics Competition, for students in grades 9-12.
The FIRST Tech Challenge has student teams competing head to head. The teams are provided a kit of parts for their robots and a game challenge. Each team is permitted to spend only a small amount of money on raw materials to build the robot.
From studying the game challenge, the students work to build what they think is needed to complete the challenge. Students apply real-world math and science concepts to successfully compete in the game.
According to Keith Hall, senior mentor in Illinois and Indiana with FIRST, the program makes education fun and exciting.
"The students learn so much so fast, they don't realize how much they're learning and they actually enjoy it," stated Hall.
In addition to being submersed in science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) learning, students are taught professional behavior, said Hall.
"There are other robot groups out there that are not as successful as FIRST. We have this ethic called ‘gracious professionalism,'" explained Hall. "The students seek win-win solutions. We teach them conflict resolution and to work in teams."
Should students see a competitor who has a problem that they may know how to fix or has a spare part another team needs, Hall explained that the students are required to assist one another while not competing.
Additional skills students learn include time management, marketing and branding.
"Robots get the students in the door," said Hall. "While we don't tell them what they're necessarily doing (for marketing and branding), the students are learning."
FIRST also offers students the opportunity to $19 million in exclusive scholarships from 150 different scholarship providers. Participating universities and institutions include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, DePaul University and Georgia Institute of Technology.
The FIRST Tech Challenge begins with opening ceremonies at 10:00 a.m. and ends with the awards presentation and closing ceremonies at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19 in the Savannah Center at Indiana University Northwest. Spectators are welcome to attend free of charge.
"We would like to invite all business leaders and educators to come check out how we are educating the next generation of innovators, engineers and scientists," said Hall.
For more information on FIRST, FIRST programs, or how to become involved in a program, contact Keith Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the FIRST website at www.usfirst.org.