Friday, February 1, 2019

Social Media & Flickr

Social Media

We have a new social media crew this season and they are doing a fantastic job! If you haven't already, please go check out our social media accounts where you can learn about our team members, subsystems, and mentors. Our PRMM subsystem is working hard to showcase our team through these accounts and I think they are doing great work.




Season Photos

The PRMM crew also posts photos to our Flickr albums. Here you can see the kids in action, working towards our success, and learning a lot along the way. It's a great way to browse through the history of our team and to see the work progress during our current season.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

It's been a long time ....

... and a lot has happened since my last post. I plan to revive this blog and use it as a platform to update the community on our transition and the good things happening here at the robot shop.

Here is a quick list of the changes here at FRC 3556 GET SMART:
1. We now work in our own robot shop - hurray!
2. We started a non-profit called GET SMART Robots to help build STEM/Robotics opportunities throughout our community.
3. We won the Regional Engineering Inspiration Award in 2017, sending us to compete at the World Championship in Houston, TX.
4. We started an FTC team, FTC 13057 GET SMART in 2017.
5. We are now a county-wide team with students from three local high schools: Columbia High School, Belmont Academy Charter School, and Fort White High School.
6. Personally, I left CHS in 2016 and went to work for a FIRST-related non-profit in Jacksonville, realized that we (The Crews Family) belonged back here in Columbia County, and so we moved back in January of 2017.

While the past few years have challenged me and the team in ways I never would have expected, I am pleased with the transition our team has made, our successes over this time, and the prospects for our future. There is good stuff all around.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

FIRST Explodes in Columbia County - Part 1

A lot happened since my last post. So much so that it's going to require multiple posts to capture it all.

It's hard to believe that we are now in our 6th FRC season. During our first few years we tossed around the idea of starting other teams in Columbia County, but with our struggles to obtain enough funding to secure our own future, it wasn't an idea that we actively pursued. I remember other FRC coaches telling me that it would take three years to secure sustainability, and they were correct. 

Our third season saw a considerable increase in sponsorship and we decided to use some of our funds to build our outreach robot, Magnum PSI. We wanted to find a way to gain awareness for FIRST and robotics in our community. Since football is such a popular activity here in Columbia County, we decided to design and build a t-shirt shooting robot to demonstrate at high school football games. We thought this would be a great way to excite the crowds while building support for STEM education.

Our Magnum PSI project turned out to be more successful than we ever could have imagined. Not only did we raise awareness, but through this project and everything that we've accomplished since then, we've truly given our community a case of FIRST fever. Thanks in part to Magnum's popularity, we went from raising just enough to cover our season to raising enough to finally go to two FRC regional events in 2015. We even ended up on the cover of a magazine!

In addition to raising money to sustain our team, we built a successful engineering technology program here at CHS. Through the generous support of PotashCorp White Springs, our largest sponsor, we acquired an industry grade 3D printer and a CNC router. This increased capability is evidenced by the evolution of our robots while enriching the experience of our engineering program. 

Along with this success came the forming of the first two FLL teams in Columbia County in 2014 - one at Epiphany Catholic School and the other at Summers Elementary School. We were excited to welcome them to the FIRST family and our team members mentored theirs on a regular basis. The community support for these new teams showed us that building a sustainable robotics program from elementary through high school was possible and set the course for something very exciting the next year.

Magnum PSI continues to be a big hit in Columbia County. He recently received an upgraded drive base thanks to our Engineering Technology 3 students which greatly improved his maneuverability. He can be seen regularly at football games and elementary school events, and most recently attended the North Florida FLL Regional Championship where we had the awesome opportunity to meet the president of FIRST, Don Bossi. We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and look forward to Magnum's future adventures.

To be continued .... 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's Recruiting Time!

It's that time of year again! It is time to sign up for classes for the 15-16 school year. I've updated the recruiting video for Applied Engineering Technology to reflect some of our new resources. If you are considering this program please check out the video. Applications can be completed online or on paper and returned to me at Columbia High School.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I took a group of team members to Stacking Layers back in February of 2014. You can read about it on a previous post here. I've stayed in contact with the organizers throughout the past year and was recently asked if we would be up for being featured at Stacking Layers II. Of course we accepted as this is a great way for our team to share what opportunities 3D printing has afforded us.

I took the idea to my students and they got right to work on coming up with a plan for the video. We reached out to Brayden, our alumnus who is studying at the Air Force Academy and happens to be the inventor of the FANTASTAKICK. We gave him some talking points and he sent us some great footage to add to our video.

We presented our video at a recent school board meeting where I also shared the success of the FANTASTAKICK. While we are not able to attend Stacking Layers II due to scheduling conflicts, we hope they have another successful symposium and continue to support 3D printing.

The successes you see and hear about in this video show just how amazing FIRST is. The impact this program has had on our school, students, and community goes far beyond what anyone can measure. I am so thankful to be the coach of this team and that we have garnered so much support since our inception in the 2011 season. It's hard to believe that we are about to reach the end of our 5th build season. I am very excited about the success my students have experienced and look forward to seeing just how far this takes them. I've seen the amazing impact of FIRST in our community and can only imagine what I'll be looking back on another five years from now. Please check out our video and help us spread the word by sharing our YouTube link.

Monday, February 9, 2015

TOY Exit Speech

It has been my honor and privilege to represent the teachers of Columbia County over the past year as the 2015 Columbia County Teacher of the Year. Last Thursday I passed this honor to the 2016 Columbia County Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Barbara Royster from Eastside Elementary School. She is going to be a fantastic representative and I look forward to hearing about her journey. During the TOY reception I was given the opportunity to share my experiences with the audience. I decided to post a copy of my speech here, just in case someone might be interested in reading through it.

As I reflect on the past year, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes. The motivational speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, five years from now you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and I’ve also been introduced to quite a few new titles that have helped me grow as a professional educator. 

My journey began this time last year when I was honored to be named the 2015 Columbia County Teacher of the Year. In June, I was invited to Tallahassee to visit with Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet. There I was awarded the Shine Award for inspirational educators. Then in July I traveled to Orlando where I joined 71 other Teacher of the Year honorees for an amazing three days of inspirational speeches, professional development, and collaboration. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow TOYs and appreciated this opportunity to meet and have conversations with our commissioner of education, Pam Stewart, and Brian Dassler, the Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality. They are both avid readers and helped grow my list of must-read books quite a bit. As if being immersed in this inspirational community of distinguished educators wasn’t amazing enough already, I was honored to receive one of two special recognition awards given out during the closing presentations. I received the Consortium for Florida Education Foundation’s 2014 Champion of Children Award for my efforts to involve businesses and the community in my classroom. I was blown away by this honor after finding myself surrounded by some absolutely amazing educators. To be singled out among that group of teachers was definitely the highlight of my year. 

The theme of this year’s roundtable and gala was ‘Lead to Inspire’, with a focus on the idea of being a teacher leader - the idea that we don’t have to leave the classroom to become leaders in our schools and in our district. To further support and promote this idea, Commissioner Stewart partnered with the New Teacher Center to develop the Teacher LEAD Network. This year-long teacher leadership program provides professional development and a collaborative network of support as we serve to mentor teachers and facilitate professional learning communities within our schools and districts. I’ve personally gained a great deal of knowledge through this program and have recently started the first STEM teacher PLC for our middle and high school STEM teachers. I’m excited about this new endeavor and look forward to the long-term benefits our collaborative efforts will have on STEM education throughout Columbia County. 

One of the opportunities I enjoyed the most during my time as Teacher of the Year was being asked to speak on behalf of educators. I felt this was my most important responsibility - to promote professional respect and support for our hardworking teachers. I received a standing ovation after speaking at a Rotary Club meeting and then went on to ruffle some feathers by talking about teacher pay with the Lion’s Club. You win some, you lose some. 

Overall I’ve had an amazing, life-changing year. I’ve made connections that are changing my life in ways I’m not even aware of yet. I’ve had total strangers recognize me in the grocery store and thank me for what I do. I have, more than once, been introduced as “that teacher that’s in the newspaper all the time” and I’ve recently landed on the cover of a magazine. I look forward to continuing my journey in the Teacher LEAD Network as we join Governor Scott in Tallahassee at the end of the month for a Teacher of the Year Summit. I will continue to speak on behalf of our great educators and work diligently to learn and grow in this epic profession we call teaching. 

As I pass the torch tonight, I’d like to make a request. I don’t have to tell you that there is a lot of noise surrounding education right now. It’s been one of the most challenging years for our teachers not only in our district but across the state. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the drama so I’m asking this: Don’t let it steal your joy. Don’t listen to the noise and remember what we are here for. We are here for our students. Without them there would be no teachers. Keep reading and learning and collaborating with others. We are in this together. In the words of Gandhi, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” I believe we need some major changes and those changes start with us: the classroom teachers. Be professional and be proud of what you do. Be an example for others – be a teacher leader.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Stratasys Extreme Redesign Marketing Kit

One of my former students, Brayden, entered the 2014 Stratasys Extreme Redesign 3D Printing Challenge. His entry was a top ten finalist. While he didn't end up winning the contest, I did just receive some great news. The FANTASTAKICK is being used in a national advertising campaign for this year's contest. If you didn't catch my blog post about his project you can read about it here. 

Our vendor is visiting me in a week or so and plans to bring a few marketing kits with him. Here is a picture he sent me: 

Can you see the mini FANTASTAKICK?

Brayden is currently studying Aerospace Engineering at the Air Force Academy. I'm sure he will be excited to hear about this and I look forward to sharing this news with him. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

2015 Robotics Team Applications

It's that time again! Position listing can be found here and the application can be found here.

Keep in mind that being on a certain sub-system doesn’t limit your participation in any way. Your position defines your specialization and your general role; by no means does it mean you can’t be involved in other areas. In fact, as members of Team 3556, you are expected to juggle many responsibilities. Our competition season runs from the first week of January through the beginning of April. Being on the team requires dedication and long hours during this time. It is a very taxing, yet rewarding, experience. We also have various outreach and fundraising events throughout the year that require member participation. Only students who feel they can devote the time and energy required need apply.

Return completed application to room 812 no later than Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Help Name Hayley's Race

Help us name Hayley’s benefit race. We are planning a 5k benefit for Hayley Lewis to be held in March of 2015. This run/walk event will be a fundraiser to benefit Hayley’s recovery and a community campaign to bring awareness to traumatic brain injury(TBI) and the need to wear helmets. March also happens to be TBI awareness month. Please help us create a catchy name for this event by submitting your ideas through the link below until October 15th. If we use your name, you will receive one free registration for the race.

Stay tuned for more details!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why not?

I just returned from the 2015 Florida Department of Education Macy's Teacher of the Year program in Orlando. I have so much to process and so much to share and that will take some time. But ... there's one thing I need to get out there before anything else. This is for you Dorina. Thanks for the inspiration. ;)

What do I do? I teach.
How do I do it? Like a champion.
Why do I do it? Because teachers make all other careers possible and I want to inspire my students to realize their dreams.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 Media & Technology Innovation Award

Something very exciting happened here yesterday. We received a letter from Comcast and NBCUniversal letting us know that we were among the top four finalists for the 2014 Media & Technology Innovation Award. Our high school from the small, rural town of Lake City made it to the top four out of 150+ worldwide teams. Let that sink in for a minute ...

When we started this FIRST adventure four years ago, we did not even own a laptop. The technology policy at the time did not allow us to bring a laptop onto campus yet the security settings on my one classroom computer did not allow us the ability to load the computer code we wrote onto our robot. It was a problem, to say the least. We were operating on a $6,500 grant from JCPenney that got us into the program. I had recently started teaching here and somehow ended up in charge of this "building a robot" thing. I WAS NOT going to let us fail. So I did what needed to be done and we brought a laptop onto campus. The bad news is that I was called into the principal's office because someone in technology saw the laptop and decided that we would be "looking at porn or trying to take down the entire network." I kid you not.

My principal was great and let me explain. I took full responsibility for teaching my students how to appropriately use technology and explained how we could follow the policy and not bring a working robot to competition or we could be allowed a slight deviation and learn computer programming. My programmer at the time, by the way, was a freshman. How amazing is that? A freshman in high school learning LabVIEW and programming a 120 pound robot. That's what we were doing. Not cyber-bullying, not looking at inappropriate content, not attempting to take down the network or any of those other things someone was worried about.

Fast forward four years and we now have a cart of 30 laptops, a fantastic desktop with a huge monitor for computer-aided design, site licenses for AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and LabVIEW, and an industry-grade 3D printer. We've had 11 students become industry certified in AutoCAD and two in SolidWorks. We are an award winning FIRST robotics team and made it to the top four for the Media & Technology Innovation Award. This might actually mean more to me than any other honor or award we've accomplished. We've worked so hard to get here and I am so proud of my students for their entry.

Don't get me wrong, great things are happening in our district and there are folks working to improve our level of technology every day. I am very grateful for them and look forward to seeing the continued advancement in our district. I hope this award serves as a great piece of evidence for the positive impact social media and technology can have. I think it is important to let the world know what great things are going on here. That's part of the reason I maintain this blog as well as a presence on Facebook and Twitter. That's why I get written permission from all of my student's parents to use their photos on the internet. If we don't tell the world how far we've come and what great things we are accomplishing then we leave our public image up to the naysayers, and that will simply not do.

See below for a copy of the letter we received and our award submission.

ETA: Congratulations to the winners - The Holy Cows.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

Have you practiced your random act of environmental kindness today? I've challenged my students to do so and report back to me on Thursday. We came up with a list of ideas.

  1. take a shorter shower
  2. take a cold shower
  3. pick up litter
  4. remind others not to litter
  5. plant a tree
  6. challenge others to commit a random act of environmental kindness
  7. help your family start a plan to recycle
  8. find a new use for a "disposable" food container

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Columbia County Teacher of the Year

Something amazing happened in my life this school year. I've thought a lot about this and what I want to post about. There are so many things that it will have to come in parts. The first step for me is putting this out there. It's been a great ride so far full of plenty of self-reflection, growth, and of course some celebration.

It started in November when I was named Teacher of the Year for Columbia High School. Thankfully Tabatha McMahon, our journalism teacher, was there to snap a photo for me when they presented this during an early morning faculty meeting.

The Lake City Reporter came for a visit and captured this picture in one of my engineering classes. 

 After essays, interviews, a video and a lot of thought and consideration ... this happened. Columbia County Teacher of the Year. I still have a little disbelief every time I hear it mentioned. There was an amazing group of educators up for this honor and, as you can tell from the picture below, I got a little emotional about the whole thing.

Thanks to the Lake City Reporter for the wonderful article. 

Banners in the commons and a parade too!

Having the support of my students at the reception meant a lot to me. I was told this has never happened before, which is just crazy. We really need to support our teachers more and I hope to start a trend of students attending in support of their teachers. 

2014 Orlando Regional

It was another successful build season for GET SMART. We now have our fourth regional under our belt. CHIEF performed very well, as did our drivers. We seeded in the top 8 to become alliance captains for the finals. We teamed up with Chaos (1421) and Octopirates (3502) and enjoyed working with both teams. Gracious professionalism all around. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll leave you with some photo highlights of competition.

Team Spirit

Mayken & Dr. Westra, ready for day 1

Check out alliance #7

Botley came to the Orlando Regional

Display of our awesome graphic design work over the years

Pit at competition

Bumper Captain awaiting his turn with the bot

Tim & Shawn putting bumpers on in preparation for our first match

Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 Extreme Redesign 3D Printing Challenge Finalist

What happens when sports and engineering join forces? Good things, my friends, good things. Brayden worked very hard on his entry for the Extreme Redesign 3D Printing Challenge. We recently received notification that his design, The FANTASTAKICK, was selected as a top 10 finalist. 

In this challenge, students are tasked to find a design and improve it. Brayden is the kicker for the Columbia High School football team and, with the help of his coach, decided his kicking tee could use some improvement. After redesigning his tee on paper he took to SolidWorks, learned the program and drew up his new design. We printed his first redesign in our 3D printer and took it to the football field for some testing. Brayden decided it could use a bit more improvement so back to SolidWorks he went. His final design, The FANTASTAKICK, was ready for submitting. 

This contest gives students the option of presenting their design through either writing or a video. We had some good footage and decided a video would be the way to go. Brayden and I talked about his options and the idea of a cheesy infomercial was born. Brayden took off with this idea and did a great job. 

Top ten finalists receive a $50 gift card and have their design printed and sent to them. His final design was a little larger than our 3D printer can handle so he is pretty excited about receiving his printed tee. The contest says scholarship winners will be announced in early April so we should soon find out if he made the top 3. 

Regardless of the outcome, Brayden is already a winner. I've watched him grow in many ways over the past three years. He's contributed a lot of time and effort to our robotics program and is part of the very first group of students set to complete my Engineering Technology program this school year. As a level three student, he will sit for SolidWorks certification in May. He also recently signed with the Air Force Academy and will head to Colorado to play football and pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. (Yay!!)

And this is why we teach ... not for the pay (which is never enough), not for the recognition (not what we're about), but for the impact we make on future generations. We give them wings so they can fly.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 Chairman's Video

Check out our Chairman's Award video. I think it's our best one yet. Fantastic job by Carlos and Allison!
Watch it on our YouTube channel here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CTE Newsletter

Yours truly is featured in the CTE newsletter. Check it out here.

Stacking Layers @ FSU

A couple weeks ago I took seven of my seniors to Stacking Layers, a 3D printing symposium at Florida State University. It was a fantastic day for us all. We learned about the different areas of study 3D printing is impacting and how it is changing the world. There were quite a few printers working away while we were there and we were able to see them in action. The presenters were dynamic and kept us on the edge of our seats. We even shed a few tears when we learned of a little girl and her 3d printed "magic arms." We learned about the software programs Rhino and Grasshopper and were all drooling over them by the end of the session.

Harris from Lulzbot was very informative and we enjoyed talking with him.
I enjoyed watching my students interact with the exhibitors and presenters. They were great representatives of Columbia High School and were actively engaged the entire time. We brought many new ideas back to school with us and I'm sure this trip will have a lasting impression on us all. In fact, the organizers were so excited to see high school students at this event that they pulled me aside and gave me a bit of fantastic news: they were going to send us a Cube 3D printer. Then, after the Rhino presentation, they decided to give us that software as well. They were so entertained by my students' reaction to the Rhino demonstration they worked out a way to give us that too.

I was surprised and entertained by the artistic side of 3D printing. We saw toys and even pottery being printed before our eyes. The wide variety of printing material was also interesting.

3D Printed Pottery ... who knew?

Bendable Wood

It was an amazing day with some awesome students and I'm so glad my principal supported my idea of taking this group to Stacking Layers. I hope this event becomes an annual thing so I can take another group next year. I love seeing the faces of my students light up with possibilities when they learn about new technology and applications. This is a great group with a bright future and I hope this day will stand out for them when they think back to their senior year. I'm pretty sure I saw sparks of the "I know what I want to do with my life" variety.

You can see a video montage Rhino Fab Studio put together here. Look for the GET SMART shirts near the end. :)
We visited the stadium after the event.
3D Printed Brain Gear

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Well folks, we did it again. I'm so proud of this team. This is definitely our best machine yet. We finished the bot early enough to get some decent driving practice in and we are hoping that pays off at competition.


We had a little fun after bag & tag. Can you see what we spelled?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Magnum PSI YouTube Video

See Magnum PSI on YouTube

Mission Accomplished: Meet Magnum PSI

Meet Magnum PSI, our outreach robot.

We decided earlier this year that we would set a goal of building a robot in the off season (outside of our regular FRC build season) to tackle some things we had not yet learned to do. We decided the best use of the time and money we were going to spend on this challenge would come in the form of a robot we can share with the public. We want everyone to see what students can accomplish and want to share that with the younger generation so they can get excited about engineering too.

We were determined to learn how to use pneumatics so we felt comfortable with it come build season. What better way to use compressed air than to launch t-shirts at football games? That was our thought, anyway. We also wanted to upgrade our drive system by including a transmission. The third challenge we set  was to have the robot completely drawn in a 3D modeling program so we could order extruded aluminum pieces that would fit together perfectly. We spend a lot of time during build season cutting and re-cutting our framing pieces and fabricating brackets and corner connectors. If we can truly design first, then we will save a lot of build time. This leaves more time for testing and driver practice.

Another change for us during this build season was that every member of the team was part of a technical subsystem. Our historian and public relations students became members of the build team. They turned wrenches, wired electronics, learned to solder, and to use power tools. Since most of these students were the female members of our team, I was especially excited about this. It is my goal to get more female students involved in STEM and in my Engineering Technology program and the robotics team.

We set out on this mission on August 5th. Our initial goal was to have the robot completed by the first home football game in September. As the project progressed we realized this time frame, while doable, was not ideal. We decided to extend our deadline to Homecoming, October 4th. We wanted to take our time to make sure everything was just right and that we learned everything we could with this project.

While the last week of build was hectic, we accomplished our goal. Magnum PSI attended the homecoming pep rally and threw confetti over the football players when the homecoming king was announced. He also rode in the homecoming parade with our team. Finally, he launched t-shirts, footballs, and confetti into the stands during the homecoming football game that evening.

Homecoming Parade

Tiger Football Game

If you are curious about the name ...
We posted photos on our public Facebook page and Twitter account throughout the build phase of this project as a way to share our progress. (I'm sure you'll agree that every good robot needs a name.) When it came time to name the robot, we came up with a list of ideas then let the public decide for us by letting them vote on our Facebook page.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

2013 Youth Engineering Camp

This summer we held our first Youth Engineering Camp for students ages 7-10. The idea was piloted by our team captain, Dugan. We had ten team members and twelve camp participants. The week focused on teaching kids about science and engineering through hands-on activities. We built mousetrap powered cars, straw rockets and model rockets, and had several engineering challenges including paper airplane contests and an egg drop lander.

I enjoyed watching my students learn what it's like to run a classroom and help younger kids with projects. I think they earned a new respect for the teaching profession. I definitely earned a new respect for elementary school teachers. The week was a great success that we plan to make it an annual event.

We started the week with some fun icebreaker activities and asked each group to come up with a favorite food and a descriptive word. That's how our interesting group names were formed.

 Toxic Yellow Cupcakes

Mega Green Ribs

Juicy Orange Watermelons

Hard Blue Crabs

Campers meeting Maxwell, our 2012 Competition Robot