Thursday, January 2, 2014

A New Year of Gracious Professionalism

Similar to Ken Johnson's blog entry, we would like to express our gratitude for all of the wonderful people (volunteers, coaches, mentors and students) who have been a critical part to the FTC program in Iowa. If you haven't already done so, check out Ken's blog post.

In addition to the people, Gracious Professionalism is what makes FIRST and FTC very special.
Over the holiday break, I received an email from coach Jerry Sheehy (#6121) and it was full of Gracious Professionalism. **Check out the update at the bottom of this article!**

Team #6121 competed at the Dec. 14 event at East Buchanan High School. The final alliance was Red Alliance teams #6121 CougarBots (from Cedar Rapids, Iowa), #4324 (from Marion), #5023 (from Waterloo) and Blue Alliance teams #6113 WHO (from Cedar Rapids), #4150 (from Marion), #5445 (from Waterloo).  Red Alliance took the first match. Blue Alliance took the second match.

Jerry's email:
"At the East Buchanan FTC Qualifier, #6113 WHO called a time-out to allow the competing alliance, led by #6121 CougarBots, time to complete repairs before the third match of the finals. #6113's coach, Vince Roth, was in the stands and was unaware that his team had called the time-out until the emcee announced it to the crowd. The Red Alliance, led by Team #6121 CougarBots won the final match 133-132, earning advancement to the Iowa FTC Tournament.

After the competition, #6121 CougarBots expressed regret that #6113 WHO was not also advancing to the Iowa FTC Tournament. And, all of the remaining qualifiers are full. In appreciation of the Gracious Professionalism demonstrated by #6113 WHO, #7806 CougarBytes, (the #6121 CougarBots sister team) would like to voluntarily give #6113 WHO their competition position at the Kennedy High School FTC Qualifier on January 18th

The CougarBots and CougarBytes both wish #6113 WHO the best of luck at the Kennedy Qualifier on January 18th at Harding Middle School."
Congratulations to all who are living Gracious Professionalism. Good luck FRC teams!

Update: On Jan. 9, FTC-Iowa received the following email from the Project Manager in Mt. Vernon: 
"We, team #3549 Born to be Wired, would like to "Pay-It-Forward", by offering to give up our spot at the Kennedy Qualifier on Jan. 18th to the CougarBytes. This would allow both of the Kennedy teams to complete at the same qualifier. Having recently hosted a qualifier tournament, I can say that both Mt. Vernon teams really enjoyed participating at "home" and had a lot of local family & friends come and watch us. We think the Kennedy teams should enjoy the same experience. Good luck, CougarBytes" -- Born to be Wired, Team #3549

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Event Feedback | Event Summaries | Leaving Tournaments Early | A Message from our Judge Advisors

1. Event Feedback
2. Event Summaries
3. Leaving tournaments early is not Gracious Professionalism
4. A Message from our Judge Advisors

1. Event Feedback
If your team has participated in a qualifier event, FIRST would like to have your feedback! Please take five minutes and complete a brief survey. Your feedback is very important to us - and it is anonymous.

2. Event Summaries
Are you interested in knowing the results from the Qualifiers? Check out the Qualifier Summary Page. This lists the teams who won awards, teams who advanced, links to pictures and other tidbits.

3. Leaving tournaments early is not Gracious Professionalism
Tournament organizers and volunteers put a lot of time and effort to make sure each and every event runs smoothly. We understand that many teams have long drives "home" - in fact many of us have long drives ourselves. Please remember that many volunteers are the first ones to arrive (around 6:30am) and are the last ones to depart (around 7pm).

We are asked multiple times "Our team was not selected in the alliance selection, can we leave?" or "Can we get our engineering notebook back early?". Although it is fine to pack up your pit area, we discourage teams from leaving early.

  • If your team departs early - we will not return engineering notebooks.
  • If your team departs early - we will not send any awards to your team. Judges take great consideration and deliberation to select the teams for each award. It is not in line with Gracious Professionalism for a team not to be present to receive the trophy and recognition. If you depart early and your team receives an award, please communicate with me as to what qualifier your will be attending to receive your award. We will not mail any trophies.
If winter weather hits there are items we can do to accelerate the speed of the tournament. Please be respectful and stay to the end of closing ceremonies.

4. A note from our Judge Advisors
The Judges continue to be impressed with your Gracious Professionalism and hard work.  Some mid-season feedback for you:

Notebooks are VERY important.  In the business world, these represent how your great ideas and hard work can "pay off".  
  •  Help ensure Intellectual Property rights
  •  The ability to replicate your success thereby taking it from a "one of a kind" success to something that can benefit the entire world
  •  Record and review your amazing failures (some say "life's best teacher") and successes
  •  Solidify the "Why" your team exists and how others can add to your team's success (Business Plan)
Here are some excellent resources for the above mentioned Notebook, as well as fundraising.!

Fundraising has important aspects:
  •   Funds provide you options (more teams, fancier robot, awesomer team outfits and bling, more reach to your outreach, etc.)
  •   Communicating about your needed funds can be an awesome conversation about FIRST:  1) how FIRST benefits you, the team, the community, etc; 2) What a local business can do to contribute (Mentor, Sponsor, Host events, Hire Interns, ...)
  • Practicing/honing your communication skills (once you've made up your mind, you then need to convince others)
  • A guide to help you with fundraising can be found using the Light Up! Iowa "Securing Funding Brochure"
Business Plans can provide the "why".  Why is the source for Inspiration.  This gentleman, ethnographer and leadership expert, shares the concept:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Congrats Beta #3550 | Planning Ahead for FTC 2013-2014

Hello, teams!
Again, fantastic "Ring it Up" Season!
A few items for you today and many ask for your action.
1. Congrats to Beta, #3550 & Combustible Lemons #5466
2. Rockwell Collins grants are now open!
3. Interested in Hosting an Event in 2013-2014?
4. Save the Date: Coach & Volunteer workshop August 5-9, 2014
5. Changes for Method of Payment beginning 2013-2014

1. Congrats to Beta #3550 & Combustible Lemons #5466
A HUGE congratulations out to Team #3550, Beta winner of the 2013 Inspire Award at the FTC World Championship!

A team that wins the Inspire award is recognized as representing the core values of FIRST and Gracious Professionalism to the fullest, has a competitive robot, communicates effectively with teams, businesses, and one another, exemplifies the spirit of discovery and science, and exceeds the expectations for all other awards!
To put this in familiar terms for Iowa, this is the equivalent of Shawn Johnson winning the Gold medal in the Olympics!

The Combustible Lemons, Team #5466, did an excellent job representing Iowa as well. They were picked during the Alliance Selection in the Edison Division.
Check out the wrap-up video!

2. Rockwell Collins FTC grants are now open!
During the FIRST World Championship, we were very excited to hear that Rockwell Collins has committed to another 3-year support of FTC! They are starting right now, with team grant support for 2013-2014!
  • Teams eligible for these grants must have an affiliation with a school or 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (for example, 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Club) and be located in the state of Iowa.
  • Only two Rockwell Collins grants per organization.
  • If "Ring It Up" was your rookie year, you are eligible to apply for a $275 Rockwell Collins grant!
  • If you had one team last year and had a large amount of student interest and are considering starting a second FTC team, this "new" team would be eligible for the Rockwell Collins Rookie Award.
Grant recipients must agree to the following:
  • Teams will consist of 5-10 members between the ages of 14 and 18.
  • The team will meet at least weekly throughout the season.
  • Coaches will participate in a training session for coaches.
  • The teams will participate in a tournament, which may be a regional or championship event.
  • The coach will be responsible for managing the team and participating in a post-season evaluation.
For more information, including the application, please visit the Rockwell Collins FIRST Website.

**If you know of an organization who would be interested in starting a rookie team for 2013-2014, they are also eligible! Please forward this information!

3. Interested in Hosting an Event for 2013-2014?
We are seeking teams who are interested in hosting a scrimmage, workshop or qualifier tournaments for 2013-2014!
If you are interested in hosting either a workshop, scrimmage or qualifier, complete the Host Event Form.
Requirements for hosting a scrimmage or workshop include the following:
1) About 4 hours for the event - not including set-up or tear down.
2) Hosts provide own field & necessary field electronics.
3) Hosts recruit teams, and accept registrations. Teams are not to be charged registration fees.
4) Hosts can arrange lunch/concessions and sell items to teams attending.
5) Hosts recruit local volunteers to help with event.

Hosting a qualifying tournament requires the following:
1) Facility would be available for 12 hours on the day of the event. (This does not include set-up for night before.)
2) Qualifying tournaments require 2 competition fields and 1 practice field, for a total of 3 fields.
Note: Many FTC teams have field perimeter and tiles, some also have electronics and tape for a field. It is up to the event host to coordinate the fields and items associated with fields. FTC-Iowa will not be providing field items.
3) Teams will be assigned to the tournament during the one-week registration time. Hosts agree to accept these teams. Hosts will receive a portion of the registration fees.
4) Hosts recruit local volunteers to help with event. The key volunteers will attend a multi-day workshop in August in Coralville, Iowa.
5) Hosts will be required to provide food for volunteers at event.
6) Host teams receive an automatic bid to the next level of competition.
If you are interested in hosting either a workshop, scrimmage or qualifier, complete the Host Event Form.

4. Save the Date: Coach & Volunteer workshop August 5-9, 2013
In August, 2013, we are planning a multi-day workshop for coaches and volunteers.

  • Location: Marriott Hotel, Coralville, Iowa
  • Date: August 5-9, 2013 We may be staggering sessions, but please hold this week on your calendar.
  • Who should attend: The coaches/mentors who were new to FTC for 2012-2013 and rookie coaches for 2013-2014. Also key volunteers of the organizations who will be hosting qualifiers. These folks include: Field Tech Advisor - FTA;Head Referee;Judge Advisor;Lead Inspector;Scorekeeper;Volunteer Coordinator; and Event Coordinator
  • Cost: We are trying to get some corporations to fund the conference and/or pay stipends to teachers who attend. However, please plan on finding your own lodging accommodations.
  • Registration will be open on May 15, 2013. You will be able to find it on the FTC-Iowa website.
5. Changes for Method of Payment beginning 2013-2014.
To help you plan ahead - For the 2013-2014 FTC Season, we will only be accepting credit cards. We will no longer be able to invoice schools/organizations for the tournament registration fees.

Thank you all!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

FTC-Iowa: Changes are Underway

Wow! What a season for "Ring It Up!" All of the FTC teams, coaches, mentors and volunteers should be very proud of an awesome season.

Some Iowa stats:
  • 135 registered FTC Teams -- that's over double from last year!
  • 11 Qualifying Tournaments -- 2 were "double-doubles" and two were on the same day but 10 miles apart.
  • Nearly 1,350 students impacted through FTC in Iowa
  • Over 350 Iowa volunteers contributed to one or more events during the "Ring It Up" Season.
There are many changes for the 2013-2014 Season, so please read the following very carefully.

1. Light Up! Iowa Initiative
2. 2013-2014 Tournament Implementation: League Play
3. FTC Iowa STEM Scale-Up for 2013-2014
4. Administrative Changes for FTC-Iowa

1. Light Up! Iowa Initiative
Now that the competition season is over, students and coaches are probably wondering "What can we do during the off-season?" Build the relationships with companies and organizations in your community – like your dentist/doctor offices, grocery stores, hardware store, banks, auto repair shops, or any organization you may have a personal relationship with. 
  • Build the relationship and promote FIRST.
  • Connect the folks in community with FIRST.
  • Tell them about your experiences and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
  • Show them your robot.  Let them drive your robot.
  • Sustain your team.
Over the past few months, we’ve been working with the folks at Rockwell Collins and FIRST to develop an initiative called Light Up! Iowa. The overall goal is to empower and equip the teams with the resources so they can make the connections within their community.

Light UP! Iowa – the first of its kind - will allow teams to access an online packet. This packet will give students and coaches a step-by-step guide to help teams seek and secure outside support. This packet includes tips and best practices of how to ask for support, a list of recommended sponsorship levels, and instructions of how to properly acknowledge the support when its been received.  

In addition to the online packet, with the support from Rockwell Collins, a case of FIRST LED light bulbs will be sent to every registered FTC team in Iowa.

Teams will be asked to take the light bulbs, as well as a marketing packet and use their personal contacts and to promote FIRST.

Spread the word. Sustain your team.

2. 2013-2014 Tournament Implementation: League Play
For the 2013-2014 FTC Season, we will be implementing a new form of tournament style: League Play!  Although the exact details have not been determined, a few things that will be different:
  • Events (a.k.a. Meets) will only be a few hours long -- not necessarily on an entire Saturday.
  • Teams will be required to attend/compete in at least two meets.
  • Meets are coordinated by teams for teams. Teams will be responsible for doing their own inspections -- either self inspection or other teams co-inspecting.

As for the boundaries of the leagues (which teams will be in which leagues), the tournament advancement (qualifiers or FTC-Iowa Championship) and the role of judging (via video submission and evaluated online) -- all of that will be finalized in the next few weeks/months. Stay tuned!
3. FTC Iowa STEM Scale-Up for 2013-2014
On Tuesday, March 5, 2013 the Scale-Up programs for 2013-2014 were announced. FTC did not apply to be a scale-up for 2013-2014 for several reasons:
A) New Tournament Implementation: League Play -- there are a lot of things that need to be determined for next year and we will be using the number of ~200 teams. If we were to double to over 300 teams, it will be very difficult to implement League Play.
B) Administrative changes -- see item #4.

Will our 2012-2013 Scale-Up Funds be carried over to next season? Since October, 2012, we have communicated that the Scale-Up funds would not be carried over to next season. It was encouraged that your team spend 100% of the funds. Hopefully your team has purchased enough extra robot parts, a laptop, a router, and field equipment to be able eliminate many of the expenses for next year.

(Teams have until March 10th to submit receipts. If you need ideas on what to spend your funds on, please visit: FTC STEM Scale-Up website.)

With each team receiving a field perimeter and tiles, teams are prepared to host events (meets, workshops, scrimmages, etc) and introduce their community - and the younger students - to FTC. Be creative.

Will Rockwell Collins continue their support of FTC? Yes. They will still continue to fund rookie teams for 2013-2014 with a robot kit and 2nd year "returning teams" (rookies during 2012-2013 "Ring It Up") with the $275 FIRST Registration Fee. More information about this will be coming out in early summer.
4. Administrative Changes for FTC-Iowa

Please read the special message from Rebecca Whitaker, FTC-Iowa Affiliate Partner.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Poem of Appreciation to the Volunteers

A Note to the FTC-Iowa volunteers
(Including qualifier planners).

Please accept the poem as a token of appreciation.
I have a huge amount of respect and adoration
The FTC volunteers in Iowa, who are the best.
The FTC events can be long, with little rest!
But the volunteers continue to inspire
The students who desire
Important life-long learning while having fun.
The FTC volunteers are the core
They ask for little, but give so much more.
When I'm exhausted, tired, or down in the dumps,
They just flash a smile and it pulls me out of the slump!
So, from the bottom of my heart
I'd like to say thank you.
I'm so very fortunate to work with a team
Who knows what Gracious Professionalism really means!
The FTC volunteers (in Iowa and beyond) are second to none.
Put it simply, they cannot be outdone!

* It is because of your hard work & dedication that FTC can inspire so many students. Wishing you and your families a wonderful and joyous holiday season. See you in 2013!!
With much gratitude,
Becca Whitaker
FTC-Iowa Affiliate Partner

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ask An Expert | Samantha Help | Qualifiers | Don't forget the Logos! | STEM Scale-Up

Hello, FTC Coaches!
I know this time of year is busy, so I will make this short and simple. Five items for your review today.

FIRST Ask an Expert Website
If your team has questions about any of the following categories then visit the Ask the Expert page. Categories are: Software basics; FTC Build Strategy; How to Impress Judges; Samantha Module Basics; Software Basics; and Team Strategy at Events
The Ask An Expert webpage has recordings of calls and presentations you can download.
It can be found at:

If you have specific questions about the game or rules, remember to check the FIRST Forums:

Samantha Help
The little black box that came with your kit is called a Samantha. (If you didn't get one, please let me know asap.) Samantha is critical for the robot to connect to the field during the matches. We understand there are many questions floating around about Samantha and how it works, so I would like to encourage you to visit:

Its officially the mid-point of FTC Season - five FTC qualifier tournaments are in the books and several remain. If you would like more information about the qualifier tournaments, including a list of the teams who have earned their way to the FTC-Iowa Championship, please visit

Don't forget the logos!
If your team received any external support, don't forget to put the logo on your robot and t-shirts. Remember the logos. These folks gave you money - it is important to recognize their contributions to your FTC team.

If your season is done, please write a letter of thanks to these sponsors.

STEM Scale-Up
If you have questions about the STEM Scale-Up program/grants and what it covers, please visit:

We've been fielding a lot of questions about the additional robot parts and what can it cover. Coach Niematalo, of #4150, compiled a fantastic list of suggestions. Check it out.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

FTC MAGIC - It Does Exist!

Have you ever been frustrated with FTC? Like, really frustrated?? Ever ask yourself: “WHY doesn’t the robot work?”; “Are we REALLY ready for the tournament?”; “How important is the engineering notebook? Do the judges read it anyway?”; “FTC is not making a difference in MY life!”

(Yes, the judges do read your notebook!!)

Trust me, I have been frustrated too, but its more because of the mounds of paperwork (processing Memo of Agreements, making qualifying tournament assignments, collecting subaward agreements, establishing POs for 100+ teams, receiving and processing quotes from vendors, reserving vehicles, reimbursing qualifying hosts, processing registration fees, etc.). I’m not complaining -  but sometimes I just need to see a little MAGIC to get me through a long day.

So, here are five stories of FTC MAGIC, happening this season, that have inspired me and hopefully they will inspire you.

FTC MAGIC -- A Student’s Life
During the Awards Ceremony of the Nov. 17th Cedar Valley Qualifier, the emcee was stumbling a bit while reading the award script for the Connect Award. He said “Love. Peace. And....” stopped. One of the students in the audience, stood up very proudly, and shouted “Love! Peace! And, chicken grease!” The audience erupted in applause while the team from Mason City, Iowa came down to accept their award.

This team is a rookie team from a district with 54% Free & Reduced Lunch. It is only because of the funding from the Rockwell Collins Rookie FTC grant and the STEM Scale-Up grant were they able they were able to start a team.

It was after the event when I realized how much FTC has impacted Johney, (a.k.a Mr. Love. Peace & Chicken Grease).  On Monday, Nov. 19th, I got an email from his coach saying that Johney said that the day was “the best day of his life”.

If we can make a Saturday the best day of a student’s life, then its all worth it.
As a “Thank You!”, I’d like to say “Love! Peace! And, Chicken Grease!”

FTC MAGIC -- Never Too Small
On Sat., Dec 8th Team #6583 only had a student and a coach.  For whatever reasons, the other  teammates could not attend. Put it simply: The student rocked. The coach rocked. Team #6583 was selected during alliance selection and made it to the semi-final matches.

A team is never too small to be loud and impressive.

FTC Magic -- Last Ranked Team
FTC tournaments are very unique. Regardless of where your team is ranked at the end of the qualifying matches, they still have the potential of advancing.

After the qualifying rounds of the Dec. 1st event in Solon, the teams were ranked and alliance selection process made the event VERY interesting. The first ranked team picked the second ranked team, which essentially moved the fifth ranked team, Team #367, into the fourth position -- and could make a selection. (Game Manual 1 - Section 2.6.8: Alliance Process) Because they had done fantastic scouting, Team #367 picked team #5143, which ironically, was ranked last. Team #367, #5143 and their alliance partner #3866 developed a great strategy and ended up winning their semi-final and final matches!

Many of our qualifiers advance five teams. (Game Manual 1 - Section 2.8: Advancement Criteria) As we advanced five teams, we arrived at the #5 Criteria: Winning Alliance, 1st Team Selected. Simply put, team # 5143, the last ranked team, Advanced to the FTC-Iowa Championship!

“The students have been re-energized and are working non-stop on the robot” said #5143 coach, Barb Miltner. “It was a great example of Gracious Professionalism!”

FTC MAGIC -- Inspiring a Volunteer
FTC Events are long, no doubt about it. Sometimes after a long exhausting week at work its hard to get the motivation to leave the house at 5am and drive to the venue, set up and be ready for doors to open at 7am.  However, during the day - and being with amazing students, sponsors coaches, mentors and volunteers - it evolves into a motivating and energizing event.

Craig Martinson, a FTC volunteer says that he helps because he sees how it has impacted his daughter and the students of his community. “I see how it motivates girls to go into engineering. I see how kids work together, even if they are on competing teams. I see how much value FTC gives students working and problem solving with others.”

Again, these events are motivators. I go home and I’m wired. At the end of a long tournament day, despite how exhausted my body may be, I feel like I did something positive to change the world. That’s FTC magic.

FTC MAGIC -- Connecting Around the World
FTC students are doing some amazing things -- and making the world a smaller place. Team #3550, Beta, from West Des Moines has developed a way to remote connect with a robot half way around the world. The magnitude of this is just awesome - the technical elements I just cannot comprehend. Controlling the robot from Des Moines, Iowa and the watching the robot move in Moscow, Russia or Sydney, Australia? Wow.

That is FTC MAGIC.

**Team #5975: Continue On and Be Strong. 
Your mentor would have wanted it this way.**

Again, regardless of how frustrated you may be for the short-term, please remember, there is a thing called FTC MAGIC and it gets us through the tough times.