History of S.M.A.R.T

In the Spruce Mountain School District (otherwise known as Maine Regional School Unit 73 or RSU 73), students from grade three through twelve are involved in robotics competitions.  Robotics is a multi-disciplinary topic that touches on engineering, basic science, computers, programming, mathematics, problem solving, and project design and management.  Our Elementary School students have participated in the Maine Robotics Track Meet Competition and Spruce Mountain Middle School students are involved in FIRST LEGO League.  In LEGO League, teams of students solve missions on a 4 ft x 8 ft table using robots made from a LEGO NXT kit, which the students build and program.   They also research and present an innovative solution to a real world problem centered on the year’s theme.  At after school meetings this fall, one can see fifty-five students assembling LEGO bricks and reviewing their oral presentations.  The LEGO League teams from RSU 73 have won 2 overall state championships and have attended the FIRST World Festival, in addition to other numerous awards.  LEGO League has become so successful it led the RSU 73 schools to support the establishment a high school robotics and pre-engineering class.  Robotic Pre-Engineering is a semester long course in which students learn to problem solve while building Vex robots and wind blades.  High school students learn how to build and program a robot, construct wind turbine blades while working with experts in the field of composites technology, and to design and build various complex systems.  The high school robotics program has also been successful in statewide competitions.  This last year a team of student won the right to compete in the VEX robotics World Championships and won the teamwork award at the competition.  A team of students also won the Wind Blade Challenge at the University of Maine.  This statewide competition to promote engineering and the composites industry came with a $50,000 work-study scholarship for members of the winning team who attend the University of Maine.   As a result, two students from last year’s championship team are now working in the University of Maine’s Composites Lab.   The best part of the Robotics Pre-engineering class is that students must work together as a team.  Throughout the school year, teams of students can be found after school working out the details of the latest robot or redesigning their wind turbine blades.

First Robotics

Involvement in FIRST Robotics is the next step in our development process.  The communities of Jay and Livermore Falls are mill towns that have under gone a lot social and economic change in the last twenty years. The mill that once employed 3000 people now employs 800 people and increasingly these are highly technical jobs.  In the next few years, the mill will need to replace retiring workers with new highly trained workers.  Our hope is that participation in the FIRST Robotic Challenge can help our schools and communities develop and train these highly skilled workers.  The need for engineers and technical people is and will remain high.

The FIRST Robotics Challenge requires schools to work with the community members to build the robots and support the students’ participation with technical and cooperative support.  The FIRST Robotics Challenge requires a new and different level of commitment and involvement.  We will need professional engineers and skilled trade people to help students to build the robots and many adult volunteers to help with organization of fundraising, shipping the robot, and travel.  Students and community members will have to build and maintain a web site, do community outreach and book keeping.  All of the current robotics programs do not have this level of adult involvement.  We will be creating a Varsity level co-curricular robotics team at Spruce Mountain High School with 20-30 team members.  Ongoing financial sponsors are key to the long-term success of FIRST Robotics.  We have started develop these relationships within our community

Success for our FIRST Robotics Competition team will be like success we have had with our other robotic programs, but also very different.  With our other robotic programs we have had a lot of success and therefore a lot of community support.  We have parents and local business working with and engaged in teaching robotics with our LEGO League teams and our Pre-engineering classes. Community support has been crucial to our raising the money to send students to world championship events. Parents and community members have been involved in developing and building a geodesic dome green house at our school, developing a responsible land management project around the school, and installing a wind turbine at the school.  The difference with FIRST is that parents and community members will take larger leadership roles from the beginning of the project and throughout the entire project.  In other robotics programs the parent/community involvement has been more of a supportive role.  We are now asking parents and community members to be the leaders and major coaches and mentors from the beginning of the creation of the FIRST Robotics Competition team.  In the past the school and the teachers ran the robotic programs, purchased the kits and supplies.  Parent involvement often happened after we won events. The FIRST Robotics Competition is different.  We may not win any event for many years to come.  With FIRST, ongoing participation will be our key to our success. The FIRST Robotics Challenge requires parent and community mentors to help students build the robots and use their knowledge and skills to mentor the students. The school and teacher cannot run a successful FIRST Robotic team without community mentors.  A number of engineers, programmers, and technicians from local businesses have already committed to serving as mentors.

By having the FIRST Robotic Competition team, we are also trying to change the community in which we live.  The communities that make up RSU 73 schools are mill towns.  Two local paper mills have been the major employer in our communities.  The last decade has seen one mill close, but the other continues as a model facility.  Thirty years ago, other industries in our community existed. These companies employed students from right out of High School and put them to work stitching shoes, or making wool cloth or manufacturing wooden pieces and parts.  Thousands of jobs existed within a reasonable commute of our towns.  These industries have closed and gone to other locations around the world. The jobs that are left are low paid or highly skilled.  With FIRST we are trying to prove to the students, parents, and to the community that our students can become the next generation of highly skilled workers that can rebuild our communities.  If we could increase our student’s and community’s aspirations through the FIRST Robotics Competition, we could attract new high tech industries to our communities in addition to the paper mill.  This will provide a vibrant financial future for out Town’s.

Success for our FIRST Robotics Competition team really is about developing and supporting the establishment of a team of students, supported by parents and community members, who are working together to complete a complex robot in a short term problem solving activity, and in the process learning that they can be the next generation of engineers and highly skilled workers in our community.

Livermore Falls Advertiser 01/28/2015, Page A01

SMART Robotics gearing up competitions

By Cindy Gilpatrick JAY — Spruce Mountain’s SMART Robotics is gearing up for this seasons competitions.

Under the direction of coach Dan Lemieux and in partnership with Ted Berry Company the team is looking towards another successful season.

In order to participate at events the team works together to help raise funds for competitions. They have participated in the Apple Pumpkin Festival with their hover rides and held car washes. Next up is the SMART Robotics annual bottle drive, November 15. The club will have a trailer at the Jay town office next week. The past bottle drivs have been very successful due to the great community and area business support.

The teams fund-raising activities help pay for travel expenses. The first trip to the University of New Hampshire will cost approximately$2,000 and the New England Championships at Worcester Polytechnic Institute another $5,000. This includes overnight accommodations for the team.

Many of the SMART are already trained in first aid. On November 10they will attend another first aid training for all new members. The goal is to have at least 95% of the team certified this year.

On November 22, Spruce Mountain High School will be hosting a rookie team training. In December the team will be headed to Oakland for a FIRST Robotic training for all Maine teams. December 13 takes the team to Augusta for the Lego/ VEX Tournament.



 Courtesy photo

Members of the Spruce Mountain Robotics team will be holding their annual bottle drive at the Jay Town office.

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