FIRST Robotics Competition and 3D Printing in the Classroom: How They’re Changing Education

3D printing and the FIRST Robotics Competition are changing the way students learn in school. 3D printing is making it possible for students to create objects they could never have before, while the FIRST Robotics Competition is teaching students teamwork and problem-solving skills. These two technologies are helping to prepare students for the future!

Background: The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is an international high school robotics competition. Each year, teams of high school students, coaches, and mentors work during a six-week period to build a robot capable of competing a given challenge specific to the current year. The robot can only weigh up to 125 pounds.

Under strict rules, limited time and resources, teams of students are challenged to:

  • Raise funds,
  • Design a team “brand,” 
  • Hone teamwork skills, and 
  • Build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors

High school students are able to partake in a similar experience to an actual engineer, learning how to fabricate a virtual, 3-d model. Volunteer mentors lend their time and talents to guide their team. The season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship tournament.

The FIRST Robotics Competition stages short games for multiple robots to take part in. The students remotely control the robots in competition rounds on the field.

Recently, we caught up with Dee Clark, a teacher, program coordinator, and engineer-mentor for the FRC Team 7407, the “Wired Boars.” 7407 is the robotics team at Choate Rosemary Hall high school in Wallingford, Connecticut.

The Wired Boars have been competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition for 4 seasons, and have participated in a total of 12 official events. Recently, the Wired Boars became the District Event Winners in the New England District competition. The team had an impressive season with a record of 42-10-0 (W-L-T) at their 3 official events (this includes a Qualification record of 29 – 5 – 0 (W-L-T) and a Playoff record of 13 – 5! The Wired Boars also took home several notable awards: Innovation in Control Award, Engineering Inspiration Award, and the FIRST Dean’s List Finalist Award!

Interview:

We asked Ms. Clark to shed some light on how the Wired Boars utilize 3D Printing technology in the classroom, and here is an excerpt from our interview:

1. How long have you been teaching and what is your background?

I have been mentoring students in FIRST Robotics for 10 years now, and have been professionally teaching for 2 years. I was on an FRC Team in high school and my experience on the team inspired me to study STEM after high school. I attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and received by bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. From there I worked in the private sector for a consulting firm as a Water & Wastewater Engineer, as well as the public sector in Drinking Water Regulation. In 2020, I made the switch to teaching and taught the Vocational Engineering Shop class at Minuteman HS in Lexington, MA. I was then recruited to Choate as a Robotics and Mathematics teacher, and I am very happy here!

2. What do you like about the FIRST program?

There are so many incredible aspects to the FIRST program. One of the major ones I like is how hands-on and real-world the program is. It truly breaks down the classic classroom walls and invites students to learn in a project-based and hands-on manner. Students develop incredible passion and enthusiasm for the program, and this leads to them accomplishing some incredible feats along the way. I love that any student can be a part of it and truly have their life changed for the better, whether they decide to pursue STEM after high school. There is no better way to learn real-world engineering skills than within FIRST!

3. Can you tell us about a particular part(s) that are 3D printed on FRC 7407 Robot?

3D printing is one of our main manufacturing techniques on FRC7407, and we were able to print many parts on the Airwolf EVO 22 machine. One part was a bracket for holding air tanks for our pneumatic system. We were running close to the weight limit and needed a lightweight solution, that could also have an irregular shape to fit within our robot’s frame perimeter. 3D printing this piece made the most sense and allowed us to save a lot of weight by using ABS filament instead of polycarbonate or aluminum sheet. The speed of the EVO 22 allowed us to iterate this design quickly as well, and take it from start to finish in a little over a day.

4. We have heard that your curriculum is a little different. Do you hit the ground running by teaching hands-on fabrication?

I take a very project-based learning approach with my curriculum. As educators learn more about neurodivergence in students and how to best meet the needs of all types of learners, it has become clear that classic STEM classes do not meet the needs of many students. There is a certain anxiety or fear that can develop as these concepts can be difficult to master, and the more negative experiences a student has in STEM, the worse the anxiety will become. By giving students long-term projects that teach core skills along the way, they are given the space to find methods that work for them, as well as room to be creative with their work. In the fall students in my CS450 course – Robotic Design & Fabrication – learned Computer Aided Design (CAD), CNC fabrication, 3D printing and a myriad of other mechanical concepts via a mechanism design project. They were challenged with making a sub-mechanism from an old FRC game over the course of the term, as well as produce a technical engineering report and design poster.

5. What CAD software are you using in the classroom?

We are using Onshape in the classroom.

6. We see that you won a “Rookie of the Year” in 2019 so you are relatively new to the scene. What words of advice can you other give other teachers that are considering starting an FRC team?

That Rookie Award was actually a part of the second FRC team I started after college! In 2016 I co-founded FRC 6328 out of Littleton, MA, and in 2017 FRC6328 won Rookie Allstar at New England District Championship. When I made the change to teaching, Minuteman did not have an FRC Team and was eager to bring FIRST into the school. Despite facing many challenges that the pandemic brought, we were still able to create an FRC robot from scratch and bring home the Rookie Game Changer Award! Starting teams is a massive undertaking, and I highly recommend reaching out to FIRST alumni to help get the team off the ground. FIRST alumni can be incredible mentors as they know what it was like being a student on an FRC Team. The role a teacher plays in a team is critical, as they are the subject matter expert in how to get the kids to learn. It is key to build a strong relationship with STEM industry experts who may be mentoring the team and teachers, where you work together to figure out the best ways to teach the students.

We would like to give a special thank you to Ms. Clark for her time and contributions to this blog post. 3D printing is quickly becoming a staple in many classrooms, and we are so excited to see how it continues to change education for the better! If you are a teacher who 3D prints in your classroom, we would love to hear from you! Please email us at info@airwolf3d.com with your story. 

Inspiration:

If you need a little inspiration or want to follow the Wired Boars this build season, be sure to check out Chief Delphi for updates here: FRC 7407 2022 Open Alliance Build Thread.

See their robot in action: FRC 7407 Rapid React Auto-Aim Shooter Testing

Ready to start your own team? Start here

Further Insight:

Airwolf 3D is conducting research on the topic of technology adoption and educators. The purpose of this study is to develop white papers and helpful guides for teachers. Participants in our study are guaranteed anonymity and compensation for completing our 15-minute survey. If you are an educator in the USA and would like to participate in our survey and receive a free bottle of Wolfbite, please drop us an email with the subject header “3D Printing Classroom Survey”.

Thank you for reading! We hope this was informative and helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us at info@airwolf3d.com. Be sure to stay tuned for more blog posts on 3D printing in the classroom, coming soon!

Did you know that Airwolf 3D offers an Education Discount? Be sure to request a quote here and check the box “Educational Agency”.

Want to learn to 3d print? Sign up for our online courses here.