MoCo Advocacy 2016 Day 1

Today students and mentors from several of the robotics teams from Montgomery County were in Rockille to talk to our county leaders about recognizing robotics as a sport.  We started the day talking to George Leventhal and his staffer Waltin Harris. Mr. Leventhal has been very supportive in the past, and has even driven Liftzilla, our 2015 robot.  He heard our idea of declaring robotics sport in Montgomery county and was immediately behind the idea.  He even offered to ask a question of the new superintendent DR. Jack Smith to see what his opinion might be on the topic.

From there we attended a meeting with the MoCo Board of education, the County Council and the new superintendent to learn more about his plans for the school district.  It was a very enlightening meeting and allowed us to get a better idea of some of the passions that drive county council members and the new superintendent. Of particular note was when Mr Leventhal asked about growing robotics in the county and getting is classified as a sport, the new superintendent agreed with both aspects of his question and asked back, “how do we get robotics in to all 204 Mo Co schools.”  Needles to say we are delighted with his answer, and have contacted Andrew Zuckerman (MCPS Chief Operating Officer) and Dr. William Beattie (MCPS athletic director) to figure out the details. You can read more about the meeting in the Bethesda Beat.

In the afternoon we shifted from asking how MCPS could make robotics a sport to some of the logistics that need to happen. We met with Crystal Ruiz from Council Member Hans Riemer’s office who gave us a lot of things to think about.  We decided to do a referendum declaring robotics a sport in Montgomery county would be a good first step.  We are going to work with all of the offices to get the final wording as quickly as possible because the county council session ends on the 2nd. We also decided to follow up with a few very specific people inside the county to ensure this moves forward as quickly as possible.

Next we met with County Council staffer for Tom Hucker, Matt Verghese, who played Bot Ball for several years in High School and was extremely supportive of the idea of making Robotics a sport in the county.  His boss, Mr. Hucker is also a big fan and wants to work with us to help grow robotics in his district.  Matt was also very disappointing to hear that robotics teams are charged CUPF fees for using the buildings.  He wants to help teams get the CUPF polices changed so that Blair High School stops charging their robotics teams and can use those funds on growing STEM instead.  Matt also asked us to look into if chess is considered a sport by MoCo.  He was part of an effort to get chess classified as a sport in college that ended in success.  So he knew a good bit about the ask we were making.

Last we met with Councilman Robert Berliner and his staffer Zac Trupp.  Mr. Berliner has been a big supporter, and even came to the Walt Whitman District event we hosted.  Mr. Berliner played devils advocate to our idea or having MoCo declare robotics a sport by asking us why not consider debate a sport.  We responded with what does the county want to celebrate and develop.  Does the county want more debaters, or does the county want more STEM students?  The answer to this question is important since we are asking the county to change the way it does things and bring a fresh perspective to the way we define sports.  Not unlike the new perspective the County Council is looking for in Dr. Smith.  We also went on to inform him that being classified a sports comes along with some very specific program changes that would remove some serious impediments schools run into when looking to start new teams.

  1. Larger stipends for robotics coaches
  2. Schools participate in filling robotics coach vacancies so that teams do not go with out a coach
  3. Access to practice space and build space without being charged CUPF fees
  4. Access to MoCo transportation resources for attending events
  5. Access to team administration support in the school and at the county level
  6. Access to gyms and schools for tournaments at zero cost to the team
  7. Students could varsity letter in robotics

We also discussed the major positives for the MCPS athletics Directors office, MCPS and the County Council

  1. More people would be interested in and responsible for growing STEM students inside the county
  2. More people would be interested in and responsible for growing diversity of STEM student participation inside the county
  3. More people would be interested in and responsible for growing the number of project based learning activities inside the county
  4. More students inside the county would be prepared to walk out of high school prepared for both college and vocational training
  5. Athletics would get access to county, state and federal funds dedicated towards STEM programs
  6. Athletics would get access to county, state and federal funds dedicated towards Vocational training programs

Tomorrow the teams meet with County Executive Ike Leggett to discuss making robotics a sport and funding a community grant to help this new new sport get started inside the county.


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Thanks to Mr. Leventhal for the photos.

Kid Museum Outreach Last Weekend

Students from Blair High School joined us at the Kid Museum last weekend to help grow awareness for robotics in the county.  Not only did we find some future Bethesda robot builders in the crowd, but we helped some New Yorkers learn about robotics as well.   Our students also inspired some amazing VexIQ creations that two of our students will spends the next few weeks teaching Kid Museum visitors how to program.

Students from both Blair and Walt Whitman went through a presentation and then we turned on the Indiana Robotics Invitational so that everyone could watch some real matches being played.   Thanks to the Kid Museum for giving the opportunity and good luck this year with your brand new FLL team.

Check out some of the pictures and videos from the event.

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Building a master list of all of the robotics teams / programs in MD

Walt Whitman is working on building a list of all of the robotics teams / programs in Maryland.  We are trying build this list so as to enable student impact conversations with county and state officials for upcoming advocacy efforts.   This list is not limited to FIRST teams, so if you have VEX, VEX IQ, MATE, seaperch.  We are also including programs that do not have teams at schools, not at schools, at summer camps, at private schools and in after school programs.  So….If you are doing anything with robotics in MD we want to know about it.  Please email us with your details and we will get it added to our list.  Or add your details on your own

If you are interested in getting involved in our upcoming advocacy effort please reach out to us via email The more folks we get involved, the more of an impact we will have.


Walt Whitman Attending the 2016 National Advocacy Conference

A week ago the team got together at the 2016 National Advocacy conference.  The team received training on several topics, practiced our pitches and networked with teams from across the county.  This is the second year the team has attended the conference and had two students get real world experience working with Maryland’s federal delegation.

We partnered with students from team 1629 and 1111 to meet with Rep. Donna Edwards, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Benjamin Cardin to discuss FIRST Robotics, education (ESSA and Title IV Part B in particular), and the expansion of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs.  All of the folks representing Maryland were receptive to this message, however the informed us that getting the full 1.65 billion appropriation would be tough.  Here are some specifics on the ask;

  • The newly enacted bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a flexible block grant program under Title IV Part A, which is authorized at $1.65 billion in FY 2017. Title IV, Part A authorizes activities in three broad areas:
  • Well-rounded education including programs in STEM
  • Safe and healthy students/schools
  • Technology (professional development, blended learning, and devices
    • Districts can use Title IV Part A grants to provide students with a well-rounded education and improve instruction and student engagement in STEM by:
    • Expanding high-quality STEM courses;
      • Increasing access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations;
      • Supporting the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions);
      • Providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM;
      • Integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs;
      • Creating or enhancing STEM specialty schools;
      • Integrating classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction; and
      • Expanding environmental education.
    • The Title IV Part A Student Support and Academic Enrichments Grants combines (and eliminates) several targeted programs under No Child Left Behind, including the Math and Science Partnership Grants. The Math and Science Partnership grants, which received $152.7M in FY2016, was the largest single program at the Department devoted exclusively to STEM.
    • The President’s FY 2017 budget proposal would provide $500 million for the Title IV A flexible block grant, less than one-third of the authorized $1.65 billion level. of the three listed priorities, or specific activities within one of the priorities.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill in early June to appropriate $300M for Title IV A.
  • Fully fund ESSA Title IV, Part A Student Support and Academic Enhancement Grants at the authorized level of $1.65 billion through regular appropriation bills or through the CR process.

If you would like to learn more about the National Advocacy Conference please check out these materials.

After hitting the hill the team and out 2016 robot Maelstrom relaxed and met with staffers in a more informal setting. As bonus we were lucky enough to meet and talk with Dean Kamen, Senetor Franken from Minnesota and a few other folks that are making big waves on Capital Hill.

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2016-2017 Team Plan

The team had a meeting a few weeks back where discussed how we would make our 2016 2017 goals a reality. One of the first things we did was modify our goals a bit after thinking about them for two weeks.

  • Raise $50,000, create a budget and be within 10% of the budget
  • Create a larger and more diver core group with a minimum of 4 people on each sub team
  • Ensure that leadership team and that each sub team has at least one female
  • Win district and district championship
  • Have 3 major impacts on the community
  • Transfer knowledge to more incoming students
  • Prepare more underclassman for leadership positions


We made the change to make the goal more measurable. We also focused our efforts for next season on the following;

  • Win the EI award
  • Spend more time prototyping for every aspect of the robot
  • Build two robots
  • Raise $20,000
    • $5,000 for District Championships
    • $10,000 for World Championships
    • $5,000 for second robot
  • Host a district event
    • Raise $10,000 on behalf of the event


To make the above happened the team talked about what we were going to do with the last month of school.

  • Repair Drivetrains
  • Tune up robots
  • Do outreach to local fabrication companies
  • Cleanup Lab


The team then talked about what we would be doing over the summer with the limited amount student who are available to make the goals real

  • Schedule a Drive Day at the STEMAction center in Columbia – Joey
  • Schedule a Pyle Drive Day – Jonah, Joey
  • Define CAD Projects – Joey, JJ
    • CAD project 1 – CAD the 2016 robot in solid works by the end of July
    • CAD 3 drive trains in full detail and include all electrical systems, wire routing and mechanical systems by the end of August
      • West coast inline drop 6 with 4” solid wheels
      • Swerve
      • H-drive
    • Complete a Vision Project
      • Identify and track 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 targets
    • Fund raise $6,000
    • Secure a Sheet metal fabrication sponsor
    • Lay the ground work to start 1 FTC team and 2 FLL teams
      • FTC at Pyle
      • FLL at Davis Library and Wyngate Elementary School
    • Repair current robots
      • Liftzilla – encoder controlled lifter, ecoder controlled drive, build bumpers
      • Maelstrom – functioning turret, vision code, autonomous modes, rewire, add climber
    • Do advocacy work at the Federal, State and county level
    • MD Federal representatives June 19-22
      • Part of FRC Team 27 National Advocacy Conference
    • Mo Co county – July 18th
      • County Board
      • County Executive
      • County School Board
      • County Dept. of Health & Human Services
      • County Dept. of Economic Development
    • Mo Co State representative – August 8th
    • MD Dept. of education – August 15th
    • MD Governor – August 15th


The team also laid out the plan for the Fall

  • Attend 3 off seasons
  • Create a 2016-2017 budget
    • Measure spending according to the budget
    • Create a part purchasing process that is tied to the budget
  • Increase the number of talks
  • Incorporate VEX robots into fall projects
    • Purchase 2-3 vex kits, $2,000 per kit
    • Host robot build off for underclassmen
  • Host Java training for MoCo teams
  • Host CAD training for MoCo teams
    • Create CAD projects due in Dec 2016
  • Host Safety training in Sept so students can use tools early
  • Start Awards in the fall
    • Finish drafts by December
  • Sign up 100 students at Clubs night
  • Track and measure freshman retention
  • Setup an Agile work board for defining and distributing tasks
    • 2 people’s names need to be on each ticket that is in work
  • Assign each new member an experienced buddy member
  • Raise $20,000 for build season
  • Recruit 2 more mentors
    • Electrical
    • Programming
  • Mentor FLL and FTC teams
  • Plan a district event


Here are the raw notes from the meeting

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Regional Manufacturing Institute 2016 Gala

A few weeks ago the Walt Whitman Robotics team joined nearly a dozen STEM programs at the Regional Manufacturing Institute 2016 Gala.  The May 26 Gala looked to the Future of Maryland Manufacturing and brought over 75 students together to demonstrate robotics, drones, 3D printing, coding and STEM projects, and to meet manufacturers.  The Gala also connected manufacturers from across Maryland to celebrate what they do, and remind the media and our policy markers why manufacturing is critical to Maryland’s future economic competitiveness.  Other speakers at the Gala included:

Calvin G. Butler Jr., CEO, BGE
Anirban Basu, President, Sage Policy Group
Demian Costa, Managing Partner, Sagamore Ventures
Honoree: Drew Greenblatt, President Marlin Steel Wire Products

Thanks to RMI for inviting us to attend.

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Maryland and Montgomery County Robotics Funding Updates

We are getting closer, and could still use your voice.

  • Good News. The state level bills HB 115 and SB 582 have passed and are still sitting on Governor Larry Hogans desk.
  • Bad News. Tomorrow, May 19th, is the last scheduled legislation signing day for the 2016 legislative session, and unfortunately, the Governor has chosen not to sign the bill at this point. At the conclusion of session, the Governor stated that he would look skeptically on any bill that spent any new money not previously included in his budget. However, please note that the legislation is not lost. There are several outcomes moving forward.
    • First, the Governor could chose to veto the bill entirely. This would be a terrible decision and one that I don’t think is very likely. The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship, including the Republican House Minority Leader, and passed both chambers with bi-partisan supermajority votes. A veto override would be inevitable and easily achieved.
    • Second, the Governor can conclude his review of the legislation, agree that it is the right thing to do, and schedule an ad hoc signing day for any remaining bills that he might decide to sign. If that was to happen, we will immediately let you know. It will be a quick turnaround, and there will be very little notice available to anyone who might want to come to Annapolis to take part.
    • Finally, the Governor can chose to do nothing. If he takes no action on the bill by May 31st (13 days from now), the bill will automatically become law without his signature.
  • CALL TO ACTION: We need everyone across the state to reach out to Governor Larry Hogan and his staff to let them know this is important and needs to be funded. To contact the Governor;
    1. Please go to this form
    2. Fill in all of your contact information
    3. Copy and past this this subject “Pass HB 115 and SB 582 to elevate MD Robotics”
    4. Copy and paste the template into the message box


Keep pushing, we know every Maryland student appreciates your efforts.

Call the gov


FIRST_FRC-Program-Excitement FIRST_FRC-Program-ItsaExp_0 FIRST_FRC-Program-HardestFun
Please take the time to reach out to our elected officials so we can help grow robotics!


We need your lessons learned

Now that the 2015-2016 FRC season is over, we need to switch gears to the 2016-2017 season. But what does the 2016-2017 season look like?  Well we need to figure that out.  So we have two meetings coming up that we encourage as many students, parents, volunteers, school administrators and community members to attend so that we get as much input as possible.

  • Agenda items for May 7th
    • 2016 recap / lessons learned
    • 2017 goals
    • May plan
    • Federal lobbying
    • Banquet
    • Seniors
  • Agenda items for the 21st
    • 2016 summer plans
      • starting teams
        • FTC
        • FLL
    • 2016 fall plans
      • Off seasons
        • Battle O’Baltimore – Sept ?? 2016, Baltimore, MD.
        • Girl power – Oct ?? 2016, Flourtown, PA.
        • Rumble in the roads – Nov 5 2016, Newport News, VA
      • training
      • fund raising
    • 2017 spring plans
    • picking team leaders
    • picking drive team
    • lab cleanup
    • Communication tools
  • Lab Cleanup May 23rd, 25th and 27th


Event with the week off, a few of us just couldn’t stop thinking about robots.  Check out these cool little lego variants of Maelstrom we made. What have you been up to?

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Nearly 2,000 people stopped by to play robots with us this weekend

What a weekend we just had at Walt Whitman High School.  We had 39 teams, we had nearly 600 students, we had nearly 800 parents and another 600 visitors stop by our high school to play robots.  We also had public officials stop by from the county, the state and the federal level.  Here is our county council person Hans Riemer checking out our pit.


By the way man did we have fun.  Smiles were contagious as all of the teams worked hard to make sure everyone was on the field vying for their shot at the finals.

But behind the teams and visitors were two more groups of people who were real reasons the weekend was such a success.  Volunteers from FIRST, Walt Whitman, Americor and several other teams put in over nearly 4,500 hours of time into this event to setup, keep things goings, trouble shoot and cleanup was one group.  Maintenance and security from Walt Whitman High School was the second.  If you have not reached out to thank these people for what they did to make this weekend possible. Please do.

As for the team, we could not have had a better first outing than we had this weekend.  We finished ranked 6th, we worked the kinks out of our drive train autonomous.  We also worked out some of the issues with the arm so now low goal cycles are pretty easy for us. We also tested some of the functionality on the defenses and found that most of our untested capabilities work; chavel de fris, port cullis and high goal shots are a few examples.  We found some things that didn’t work or that need to be made more robust; our intake lower arm, out shooter and our bumpers.  We also learned how to play the game and how important pre checks are.  And when we say pre checks we mean touch every wire and every bolt to make sue they are connected and tight.

Here is what we need to work on over the next two weeks

  • Vision code – started
  • Main code part 2 – started
  • Strategy part 2 – not started
  • Scouting system part 2 – not started
  • Awards part 2 – not started
    • Chairman’s video part 2 – not started
  • Competition documents part 2 – not started
    • Tech Journal part 2 – not started
    • Judges Packet part 2 – not started
    • 1 sheeter part 2 – not started
    • Pit Video part 2 – not started
    • Chairman’s presentation part 2 – not started
    • Bill of Materials part 2- not started
  • Pre-competition scouting part 2 – started
  • Pre season scouting and risk survey part 2 – started
  • Climber pushed to after second event
  • Defensive Cheescake – not started
  • Refurbish robot cart – not started (lost new cart at competition, need to start again)
  • Paint Pit – pushed to after first event
  • Upgraded alpha turret and arm – not started
  • Fix bumpers – started
  • Add camera mounts and two cameras – started


Have you called your elected officials about robots yet?

If you have not taken the time to contact your county council members and Maryland state political leaders in support of robotics, please take some time today!!!  There are two Big Initiatives in the works for Robotics in Maryland and we need your help to make our voices heard!!!!

FIRST_FRC-Program-Excitement FIRST_FRC-Program-ItsaExp_0 FIRST_FRC-Program-HardestFun
Please take the time to reach out to our elected officials so we can help grow robotics!