God is good. All the time.

The follow is my story, aimed at 5th and 6th graders. As with every historical narrative, there is a lot more going on than I’ve chosen to reveal. God has done amazing things in me throughout my life, and I cannot possibly chronicle all them in a 15 minute talk. But, the story is cool, the events are real, and God is good. – Tyler

I was born at a very young age. Fast forward a couple years, and we get to the beginning of my story (or at least, this story). Since I can remember, I loved to play video games. I would play them with my dad constantly when I was little and liked to do very little else. I played soccer and water polo and other physical activities during my youth, but I turned away all of it in pursuit of being able to play video games.

All the video games I played were based on the idea that as you played, you would get items or achievements and those things would make you a better player. The best players were those that had gotten all the items or all the achievements. These were games like Yu-Gi-Oh, Star Wars Galaxies, Age of Empires, and World of Warcraft. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play video games, but I do know that I really started playing games with other people (online) right about 5th and 6th grade.

When I first started playing games online, I played alone or with my dad. It was fun. We would wake up on a Saturday and play until evening. However, over time I wanted to play more and more. I would get up early in the morning and play before school and then as soon as I got home I would rush back to the computer to get on it again. I met a group of people at Solana Pacific that played trading card games and I wanted to be a part of that group too.

Soon my entire life was focused around playing games, both online and during lunch. Any friends I have made in elementary school I had forgotten about. I just focused on playing games. I didn’t like running around or exercising so being able to just sit at a computer was easy. Plus, I could feel like I was better than everyone else when I had better cards or items and more achievements. It was awesome.

In Middle School, I started to play online with a bunch of people I had never met before. It started taking up a lot of my time, and I would spend maybe 9 – 12 hours every week after school doing nothing but playing games with them. The only time I really stopped playing games online was to go to school or church.

When I was at school or church, I was always focused on going back home so I could keep playing video games. I didn’t really make many friends, and even if I wanted to I usually couldn’t because I really didn’t know how.

It took me until my second year in high school to finally grow bored of my video games. I saw all the other people in my grade that had lots of friends and I wanted that. I also realized that I couldn’t really make friends if I was spending all my free time at home playing on the computer.

So, I decided to stop. I cancelled my subscription and tried to go to church and school events more. However, even though I went, it was really hard for me to make friends. I didn’t go up to anyone to talk to them, and most people I thought had already labeled me as weird and didn’t want to talk to me.

In my fourth year of high school, right before I graduated. I met this girl that I thought was awesome and really wanted to be friends with her. But, again, I didn’t know how to friends with people. So I just would say hi, and not much else. However, I constantly tried to be around her because I thought she was really cool. After a couple months of trying to be her friend, she told me she didn’t like me and did not want to be friends with me. She thought I was weird.

This made me feel terrible. I thought that no one would ever want to be my friend, and that I just would go through life alone. And I spent a long time thinking that, avoiding other people and just thinking that I was a horrible person that was no good at making friends. And that was wrong. I let this one girl convince me that I was a terrible person and that no one would ever like me. In fact, I even thought that God didn’t want me to have friends.

When I graduated, I started working at Grace Point because I liked playing games and helping people. During the first year out of high school, God connected me with some people on staff who helped out and actually started to be some of my first real friends. They listened to my story, and helped me realize that God loved me despite what one person said about me.

It took three years of high school, and a year in college, but God finally showed me that I could have friends and that He wouldn’t just leave me alone. In fact, as I look back I can see that God was working to prepare me to meet the right people all along.

God taught me that He provides me with the things I need. Even when I thought that I had no friends, and would never find friends, God provided. And since then, a lot of those friends have moved away. But, God has continued to bring new people into my life that care about me and show me just how good he is.

Love is…

I googled to find out what the internet says love is. I can definitively say that people have a lot of opinions. This is what I got:

Love is an ocean wide
Love is a raging sea
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love isn’t something that you find
Love is something that finds you
Love is friendship that has caught fire
Love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen
Love is the beauty of the soul
Love is a single soul inhabiting two bodies
Love is life
Love is what makes the ride worthwhile
Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own
Love is the greatest refreshment in life
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend
Love is stronger than death
Love is a force more formidable than any other
Love is never lost
Love is music
Love is our mother
Love is but the discovery of ourselves
Love is an emotion experienced by the many and enjoyed by the few
Love is a game that two can play and both win
Love is our true destiny
Love is my religion
Love is good sense
Love is an ice cream sundae
Love is blind
Love is a really scary thing
Love is the most important thing in the world
Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy
Love is the only reality
Love is the mastery key
Love is a better teacher than duty
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence
Love is love’s reward
Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real
Love is a reciprocal torture
Love is always a surprise
Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself
Love is better than anger
Love is not just tolerance
Love is a sacred reserve of energy
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs
Love is selfless
Love is what you’ve been through with somebody
Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination
Love is a trap
Love is like a virus
Love is the magician that pulls man out of his own hat
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Love is energy of life
Love is, above all, the gift of oneself
Love is a strange emotion
Love is the most terrible and also the most generous of the passions
Love is largely the art of persistence
Love is the only transcendent experience
Love is an endless mystery
Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species
Love is a metaphysical gravity
Love is a bond that can’t be broken
Love is a battle
Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you
Love is the joy of good
Love is space and time measured by the heart
Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar
Love is the antonym of indifference
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own
Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it.
Love is keeping the promise you don’t understand when you make it
Love is needing someone
Love is putting up with someone’s bad qualities because they somehow complete you.
Love is a fire
Love means never having to say you’re sorry
Love lasts but a moment
Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop
Love is an untamed force
Love is a two-sided coin
Love awakens the soul and makes us reach for more
Love is temporary madness
Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained
Love is letting go when you want to hold on tighter
Love is a decision
Love is to be vulnerable
Love cannot save you from your own fate
Love is never boastful or conceited
Love is a war
Love is a growing up
Love can make even nice people do awful things
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place
Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired
Love is grand
Love is being stupid together
Love is that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other
Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit
Love is suffering
Love is a mutual self-giving which ends in self-recovery
Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on
Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within
Love is a friendship set to music
Love does not dominate, it cultivates
Love is not only something you feel, it is something you do

Teaching Campers about Robots

Teaching campers about robots is the core of any robotics camp. For our camps, we spent 4.5 hours each day building, testing, and learning about robot construction and using technology to make our robot conquer challenges.

What you do with this time is important. These are a couple techniques we tried for our five-day camp. They can be tweaked based on your individual camp.

2014: Modular Lessons

In 2014 (our first year) of camp, we tried a simple technique that promised constant camper engagement and developed a number of different robotics-oriented skills: one day, one topic.

Each day we picked a different type of sensor to focus on and created several challenges that would introduce and challenge the campers’ abilities to design and program robots with the new technology.

On the first day, we practice our mechanical skills by introducing the campers to the robot kits and the programming interface. We had them do activities like program a robot to drive a path by coding each of the turns and lengths into the robot. At the end of the day, we challenged them to create a tug-o-war robot as a challenge of design and mechanical skills.

On day two, we started learning about light sensors by having campers build a robot that could use the color of their surrounds to interpret tasks. They were given the challenge to follow a black line on a white board, which is doable given the correct programming pattern. We introduced a color maze where detecting the color of the wall would give you the instructions on how to proceed (red means turn left, blue means turn right, green means turn around).

Day three brought distance sensors where campers used the sensor to solve a maze built out of wood. We then repeated this exercise on day four with touch sensors that required similar, but different calibration.

Finally, the round the entire week up, we ended with day five where we brought all of their skills together into a single competition. We invented a game we liked to call Street Sweeper. Robots played on a 4′ x 4′ board with a cross-hatchet pattern of tape. Their goal was to move marbles on the board towards their edge of the field, outlined in red or blue tape.

Pros: This methodology was a solid way for campers to learn about the different things that their robots could do. Campers became familiar with the different sensors and the plethora of different challenges meant that something new was always happening.

Cons: Having many different lessons means that the burden falls on the camp organizers to prepare all the materials for the different lessons. For us, this meant that we had to have a variety of different game boards that needed to be switched out every day and there were a lot of different game pieces that needed to be kept track of, used, and repaired.

We also found that only having one day for the competition didn’t give campers time to explore the challenge in a way that would have let them try more creative approaches.

Overall: The lesson based approach did what we need it to do — it got campers up to speed on what was going on and gave them time to explore the different sensors. However, we found that the effort required to make it happen could be better spent elsewhere.

2015: Focused Competition

In our 2015 camp, we wanted to eliminate the work that it took to plans and organize a week worth of lessons (22.5 hours of build time), and we wanted to do that by focusing the campers on a main competition. So we looked towards VEX Robotics and their VEX IQ and EDR competitions.

VEX Robotics is a name that should be familiar with anyone in the robotics world. We looked towards them because not only do we consistently purchase professional-level robotics equipment from them regularly, we planned on using their elementary and middle school level kits in our camp rooms anyway.

In short, we found borrowing their games to work perfectly in our camp setting. Campers became super engaged with the challenges and we didn’t have to think out every detail about rules, game play, etc. We could even just purchase all the game pieces right from VEX.

We gave campers a majority of the week to attack these challenges, with counselor help. Depending upon grade level, we introduced the challenge on day two (middle school) or day three (elementary) and gave them the rest of the week to design, build, and test. Halfway through day four, matches would slowly begin with ample amounts of time in between each match for the campers to tweak and refine their robot.

Pros: By using an existing competition, you take all the work out of making your own challenges/lessons. You should still design creative ways to getting campers up to speed on the robot kits, but the game is already thought out and instead of worrying about tweaking rules you can instead focus on helping the campers play the game.

Cons: This plan is not without its downfalls. Competitions like the ones we used are meant to be built over months, not in three to four days. Wee had some campers walk away frustrated about not having enough time to build the robot they dreamed of. We also found that the game pieces and fields will take a chunk out of your bottom line, but the convenience is well worth it.

Overall: The competition model we found worked out much better than the lesson based model. Campers quickly latched onto the games, and it made the perfect environment where robotics volunteers could help the kids with exactly what they are good at: building robots.

Starting a Robotics Camp

Our team has had some success running robotics summer camps over the past two years. We’ve found a model that has worked well for us, and I feel could benefit other teams trying to get started. To date, we’ve had over 250 registrations and have raised over $100,000 in revenue.

There are a lot of details to think about when you’re running a camp, and I’ll expand on all the different parts of our camp and all the things you should at least consider thinking about. But, we’ll start with a basic look into what’s going on. These are the first details you should figure out, and shape all the other parts of your camp.

A bird’s eye view of camp.

You can run camps for a lot of different reasons and in a lot of different ways. For us, our goal for camp is to get campers excited about robotics.

We believe that when kids get excited and interested in something, they will desire to pursue it on their own. We don’t try to be the place where you go to get textbook information, or are learning from qualified experts. There is always time for that during the school year. We just want to get kids excited.

What’s your camp’s goal? Our goal of getting students excited helps us focus on the important things and disregard the less important things. It also is a key motivator for our overall structure:

At our camp, every four campers should has one volunteer counselor (read: high school student). For 5th & 6th, we have campers in groups of two working on a robot, with a counselor overseeing the two groups. With 7th & 8th we have one dedicated counselor for a group of four campers for a single robot. This lets people work in groups to solve more complex challenges, and means that we have more than enough volunteers in the area to help anyone who needs it 90% of time.

We divide our camp up into rooms, with 16 campers + 4 volunteers + 1 room leader in each room. The room leader is there to set up challenges/competitions and generally lead the group in what is happening.

How is your camp structured? For us, we picked a structure that helps us fulfill our goals. Having lots of volunteers around is important for us as it means that campers are never competing for a teacher’s attention which might happen in a classroom setting where it can be anywhere between 8:1 to 30:1. It also is important because it lets us know exactly how many volunteers should be in a room. Too many and a room can get crowded and veer off-topic quickly. Too few, and campers can get overlooked. For us, 4:1 is perfect. Your results may vary.

Watch the clock, Doc.

When will your camp (hours) happen? We run our camp from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, with drop-off for campers starting at 8:30 am and pick-up ending at 3:30 pm. This is considered a full-day camp, as it is six hours long, which many parents appreciate especially if both of them work during the day.

What will campers do? During oursix hours, we do snack, lunch, and some recreation time in between our 3 90-minute build sessions. This requires a lot of planning, with task forces dedicated to things like meal planning, recreation, and facilities setup/teardown. But, by having this variety we have found a way to break up the longer build sessions and to get people outside and active.

Our plan might or might not work for you for one of many reasons. A half day camp (three hours) might be more in your realm of possibilities, or even a workshop-sized camp (90 minutes). You might decide that you want to end at 1:00 pm and not deal with lunch, or that you want to avoid food all together. A couple things to consider when you’re picking your hours are:

  • Activities: What are students doing during this time? Will they be able to accomplish their task in the given time? Will they get bored and need more to do?
  • Meals: Does the camp cross over a meal time? Will your camp provide food for that? Will you allow campers to bring their own food? etc.
  • Volunteers: Do I have volunteers that can make that time commitment? Do I have enough people to do all the activities planned?

Show me the money.

What will your campers pay? Camp registration fees can be very dependent upon your demographic. For us, campers pay $450 to come for one week, and we duplicate the session over 5 weeks. This structure works well for us for a couple reasons:

Offering multiple weeks of the same content means that we can reuse our assets, our curriculum, everything! This is vital because it means that we can take all the work and planning our team has done and make it work over and over again. It also means that we can use the assets we purchase multiple times, which means we can buy the best kits for the job.

Besides that, by offering multiple weeks we are expanding our target audience. If we only offered one week, the only campers that could come would be those who don’t have any trips/vacations/other camps planned on that week. Instead, we cast a wide net that allows us to get as many campers as possible.

Just the beginning.

There is a lot more to think about. I’ll be adding more posts about the decisions that we made for our camp, and how you might go about planning your own.

If you have any questions about anything above, or in general, feel free to send me an email at tyler@team3128.org.

Organizing Your Feeds

I recently began reading RSS feeds again. I’ve had an on and off relationship with them. On one hand, knowing what is happening in the world and having access to cool content is a great perk that technology allows. On the other hand, it takes time away from work and real-life human interactions with people I care about, as well as can be a distraction from putting my mind towards passions. However, if used correctly it can keep me more generally informed about the world around me as well as serve as a booster to bolster my passions.

So, the plan is simple: as much content as possible in the most efficient means possible. Get through lots of content in short amounts of time so I can get back to what I was doing. How do I do this?

Curated Categories

The only categories I have on my reader are ones I sincerely care about: cooking, Christianity, productivity, entrepreneurship, FIRST, and WordPress. I refuse to have a ‘techology’ category, a ‘writing’ category, or any other category that doesn’t directly pertain to my interests. Furthermore, inside each of these categories I only have feeds that give me the full content of the blog post in my feed reader. I am not very interested on a normal basis of going to an outside site to get my content. I want 80% of my reading done in the feed reader. However there are some exceptions….

Title-only Firehose Categories

Besides my regular categories, I have a couple ‘firehose’ categories. These are categories that are specifically set up for me to scan over a fairly large number of titles quickly for topics that interest me. They contain high volume feeds that I can quickly filter through and discard most of. These include things like the Hacker News feed, Techmeme, and any other general blog I want to follow that doesn’t pertain to my stated interests. Because these feeds will ultimately make up of a small percentage of my actual reading, they can require me to go through to the website to read. I’m only looking at the title most of the time anyway.