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ROBOTC Curriculum Breakdown

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ROBOTC-BreakdownA curriculum pacing guide is something that teachers have to consider whenever they examine their curriculum. This fact does not escape teachers of <a href=”http://www.robotc.net”>ROBOTC</a>. Whenever I come across teachers who are just starting to use the ROBOTC curriculum, often their first question revolves around how long the curriculum will take. Once again, teachers are used to having some type of pacing guide that delineates how a subject is to be taught. The ROBOTC curriculum is not organized in that fashion. Instead, the curriculum is organized by topic. The topics include basic programming fundamentals, robot movement, robot sensing, etc. The teacher is then free to spend an appropriate amount of time within each topic.

As teachers, this freedom is welcome. It is welcome because the pacing that comes with most textbooks is an impossible guide to follow. In order to create a true pacing guide, student background knowledge would have to be taken into account. Since every classroom is different (sometimes within the same grade, within the same school), it is impossible to gauge how quickly the students are going to master the concepts as they are presented. Screenshot-2013-09-05_15.11.12Additionally, as the teacher becomes more familiar with ROBOTC, they will find that they spend more time on particular concepts then they did the first time they taught the curriculum. For example, when I first taught ROBOTC, I spent 20 minutes discussing Flowcharts and Pseudocode. Experience has now taught me to spend a significant amount of time on these topics. I also spend much more time talking about Errors. Specifically, what should a student do when they get the dreaded compiler errors in their program? Experience has taught me to spend much more time on thinking about the logic of a program before the writing of ROBOTC and on debugging strategies once the code has been written.

Screenshot-2013-08-05_15.01.181Each of the aforementioned sections of the ROBOTC curriculum contains a programming challenge. The programming challenged is designed to showcase the skills that were emphasized in that section. Each section also contains an assortment of “mini challenges”. These challenges can be used at the teacher’s discretion. They all do not have to be completed. However, they can be very useful. For example, after the students have spent a day or two learning a topic, I will begin the following class with one of these mini challenges. They might not know all of the skills needed to complete the section challenge, but the mini challenge is a good assessment of what has been presented so far in that section. This also serves as a good change of pace for the class. Simply, you can’t learn to program without actually programming. In order to really understand the applications of while loops or if/else statements, students need to apply them. The mini challenges found within the ROBOTC curriculum serve as a great opportunity to scaffold skills toward their more challenging applications.

A beginning teacher of ROBOTC could teach the basic ROBOTC curriculum in one semester. By including many of the mini challenges, the curriculum can be stretched easily over a semester. I often tell teachers who are teaching the class for a year to do this, and then to end the year with a larger programming challenge. After the students have made it through the ROBOTC curriculum, I enjoy introducing them to Multi-Robot Communication. The sensor needed (NXTBee) is inexpensive, and there are a lot of great ideas for activities and programming challenges.

 


 

If you have a stronger background in computer science, and maybe you are teaching older students, you may be able to navigate through the curriculum much faster. What then do you do with students if you have them for an entire year? Luckily, there are many great ROBOTC projects on robotc.net. Moreover, the ROBOTC forum is also a wonderful place to look for ideas for projects, in-class competitions, and programming challenges.

Teaching robotics and ROBOTC is a lot of fun. The ability to watch your students apply what they learn in the ROBOTC curriculum in such engaging and open-ended activities is one of the main reasons why.

Setting up ROBOTC and RVW for the Classroom

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Setting-Up-ClassroomOnce the physical hardware (robotics kits) are secured for a classroom, the next step is to install the software (ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds). It would be nearly impossible to cover every single specific setup that could be encountered on a classroom’s computers, but this blog post will cover the basic installation steps and some of the more common installation issues that educators may run into when installing ROBOTC in a classroom.

The first thing you will need to do is install ROBOTC on the computers in your classroom. To do this, always make sure to grab the latest version of ROBOTC that your license supports from the correct ROBOTC download page. If the wrong version is downloaded and installed, or if there is already a different up-to-date version of ROBOTC installed on the computers, you will not need to uninstall and reinstall the program; instead, you will simply need to activate your license in ROBOTC (more on this later). During the download process, ROBOTC will also attempt to install the necessary drivers for communications with physical robots. Depending on the level of security on the computers, you may need to get your IT department involved in order to ensure that the drivers are installed properly.

Activating_ManageOnce ROBOTC and the appropriate drivers have been installed, you will need to activate ROBOTC on each computer manually. The license activation ‘unlocks’ the ability to download code to either a physical robot or a Virtual World, depending on which license is used.  When ROBOTC is installed on a computer, all versions of ROBOTC (including different robotics platforms, such as the VEX and LEGO platforms, and different compiler options, such as Virtual Worlds compiler options) are installed at the same time. Instead of installing additional copies of the software  on the same computer (or opening a new program every time you would like to change the compiler target), the additional platforms and compiler options are ‘unlocked’ by activating their respective keys.

Before we move on to the next blog (Setting up the Robots), here a couple more tips that may come in handy when setting up ROBOTC in a classroom:

  • Depending on the programs, policies, and restrictions in place on the machines, your school’s IT department may need to be present for the installation or activation of ROBOTC, Virtual Worlds, or the installation of any drivers for the physical robots.
  • If your school’s IT department images and deploys the classroom’s computers, make sure they reference the ROBOTC Deployment Guide on the ROBOTC wiki for important help and information.
  • Make sure to check the computers’ hardware to the minimum requirements for ROBOTC or Robot Virtual Worlds before
  • Always test one computer first! If there is a problem with the installation, it is better to find out about it early and fix it before they same issue appears on a classroom full of computers.

- John Watson

Reviewing ROBOTC Concepts After a Summer Off

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There is a bevy of materials to help a teacher get started teaching the ROBOTC Curriculum. But what about the teacher that has made it through the curriculum and has a robotics class returning at the beginning of the school year? Whether that teacher is preparing to enter a robotics competition or is planning on creating a cool ROBOTC project, the teacher will still need to determine what the students have retained from the previous year.

Default-Objects-copyStudents that have made it through the ROBOTC curriculum should be able to use variables and functions in their programs. A great way to assess this would be to utilize the Robot Virtual Worlds. Students can spend the first week of school trying complete all of the missions within Operation Reset. Working with Operation Reset affords teachers the opportunity to differentiate this beginning diagnostic. Students that have retained more information can work independently, while those students that need more assistance can get the help they need. This is just another great application of Robot Virtual Worlds in the robotics classroom.

If Robot Virtual Worlds is not an option, you can apply the same concept with a physical robot. For students that are already proficient with ROBOTC, a good challenge to begin the year with would be the Chasm Detection.

 

chasm-detection

 

Another great tool that a teacher can utilize is the debugging of code. This can serve as a good one or two day review of ROBOTC syntax and logic. If a teacher is anxious to get started with a project and wants a quick review, this may be the way to go. One of the nice things about using code is the teacher can get some quick and individual feedback from the students. If time allows, a teacher may use one or two examples of code, see where the students are, and then design a challenge for them. Here is an example of code that the students could troubleshoot.

 

trouble-shooting-code

 

Hopefully this gives you some ideas of how you can reintroduce ROBOTC to your students. A seamless beginning to the school year will help with all of the projects and activities that you may have planned for the rest of the school year.

- Jason McKenna

Which Robotics Kit Should I Use? VEX Edition

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VEXiq-109Now more than ever, robotics educators are faced with the important question of which kit they should purchase and use. This key question has been made even more intricate in the 2013-2014 school year due to the addition of the new robotics kits, VEX IQ kits. This article will help break down each VEX kit, their capabilities and target audiences, and allow you, the educator, to make an informed decision on which kit is best for your particular classroom.

The VEX IQ system is the brand-new robotics system from Innovation First International (IFI for short, makers of the VEX Robotics Design System). The VEX IQ can be used with any of the all-new hardware and sensors, including a unique plastic snap-fit structural system.

 

 

 

 

  • Sensors include a gyroscope, color sensor, potentiometer, touch LED, and ultrasonic sensor.
  • The base kits (either Sensor or Controller kits) are provided with over 650 structural components, 4 plug-and-play ‘smart motors’, at least 2 touch sensors (or more, depending on kit), and the VEX IQ microcontroller (more information on all available kits can be found here).
  • The IQ contains 12 smart ports that can be used to control either analog sensors, digital sensors, or servos/motors; the ports are non-typed and can be used to control any piece of VEX IQ compatible hardware that is plugged into it.
  • It also includes a micro-USB port for IQ-to-computer communication and a ‘tether’ port for direct connections to an VEX IQ Controller.
  • Debugging and programming information can be displayed on the backlit LCD information to increase ease-of-use in real time.
  • Wireless communication between the VEX IQ microcontroller and a VEX IQ controller is provided via a set of 900 MHz radio adapters.
  • The VEX IQ system will be fully legal in the new VEX IQ Challenge (designed specifically for the VEX IQ system), for students ages 8-14.
  • Recommended use: Middle School.

cortex-robotOne of the mainstays of the educational robotics world is the VEX Cortex platform. Originally released in 2010 by IFI, the Cortex can be used with the VEX Robotics Design System’s hardware and sensors.

  • Includes over 300 metal structural parts, 4 powerful DC motors, the VEX Cortex microcontroller, and a wide variety of fasteners, gears, and other miscellaneous hardware.
  • Sensors include touch sensors, an ultrasonic sensor, integrated motor encoders, line following sensors, and a potentiometer; additional sensors are available outside of the base kits.
  • Wireless communication between a VEX Cortex and a VEXNet Joystick Controller is possible by using the 802.11b/g VEXNet USB Adapter Keys.
  • The VEX Cortex system can be used in the VEX Robotics Challenge (Middle, High School, and College divisions).
  • Recommended use: advanced Middle School, High School or College.

We understand that choosing a robotics kit is a tough decision. The number one factor in determining which kit is right for you is the students; depending on the skill level of the students, it may be better to challenge them with a more advanced kit (VEX Cortex) or they made need to start with a simpler kit (VEX IQ.) No matter which kit you decide to use, though, you can rest easy knowing ROBOTC will fully support all of these platforms.


 
 
 

Robomatter Blog Ad VEX

 

Written by John Watson

August 27th, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Which Robotics Kit Should I Use? LEGO Edition

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EV3-Cutout-01-copyNow more than ever, robotics educators are faced with the important question of which kit they should purchase and use. This key question has been made even more intricate in the 2013-2014 school year due to the addition of the new robotics kit, LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3. This article will help break down LEGO’s kits, their capabilities and target audiences, and allow you, the educator, to make an informed decision on which kit is best for your particular classroom.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 is the all-new robotics kit from LEGO Education (creators of the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT system). It is fully compatible with previous NXT hardware (except for the battery), including all plastic structural pieces and sensors.

 

 

 

 

  • Compatibility with the MATRIX and TETRIX metal systems is expected in fall 2013.
  • Those starting a classroom from scratch need not worry; the EV3 comes with a total of 541 elements, including a multitude of structural parts (beams, connectors, wheels, gears, etc), 4 different sensor types (color sensor, gyroscopic sensor,  ultrasonic sensor, and touch sensor), 3 motors, and the EV3 micocontroller or ‘brain’.
  • The EV3 microcontroller sports 4 sensor ports, 4 motor ports, a internal Bluetooth adapter, and a USB slot which can be used with a WiFi adapter for wireless connectivity (as well as microSDHC card slot which supports cards up to 32GB in size).
  • It utilizes a Linux-based firmware which allows for on-brick programming and datalogging.
  • The EV3 will be legal in the 2013 First Lego League (ages 9-14) and the 2014-2015 First Tech Challenge (High School) competitions.
  • Recommended use: Middle School (EV3) or High School (with MATRIX or TETRIX kit).

Other-BUG-Robots

Now, let’s take a look at the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT V2.0. Released in 2009, the NXT platform utilizes a plastic snap-fit hardware structure system, with 431 elements included in the base kit.

  • These elements consist of both structural pieces (beams, connectors, and axles, to name a few), three interactive servo motors, the NXT microcontroller, and ultrasonic, light, sound, and two touch sensors included.
  • There are also many third-party sensors available from sites such as Hitechnic, Dexter Industries, and Mindsensors.
  • The NXT is also fully compatible with the MATRIX and TETRIX metal systems.
  • Wireless capabilities include built-in Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity (provided by an external Samantha Module adapter).
  • The NXT is currently a legal microcontroller for both the First Lego League (FLL, ages 9-14) and First Tech Challenge (High School) challenges.
  • Recommended use: Middle School or High School (with MATRIX or TETRIX metal kit).

We understand that choosing a robotics kit is a tough decision. The number one factor in determining which kit is right for you will come down to the students; depending on the skill level of the students, it may be better to challenge them with a more advanced kit  (MATRIX or TETRIX kits) or they made need to start with a simpler kit (LEGO NXT or EV3 kits). No matter which kit you decide to use, though, you can rest easy knowing ROBOTC will fully support all of these platforms.


 
 

 
 

Robomatter Blog Ad LEGO

 

Written by John Watson

August 27th, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Robotics Summer of Learning Competitions Ending Soon!

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Robotics-Leaderboard copyOur inaugural Robotics Summer of Learning competitions are coming to a close on August 31! We have received some great entries, but there is still time to submit your programs for a chance at some awesome prizes.

There are three competitions eligible for prizes: CS2N VEX Toss Up Challenge, CS2N FTC “Ring It Up!” Challenge, and Robot Virtual Worlds Beacons and Barriers. Each competition is broken up into three divisions. Each player is eligible for only one prize per competition.

 
 
 
 
Divisions

  • Middle School Division – 6th to 8th Grade (for the 2013-2014 School Year)
  • High School Division – 9th to 12th Grade (for the 2013-2014 School Year)
  • Open Division – Teachers, Mentors, Coaches, Educators, Hobbyists, Everyone!

The prizes are top notch … we are giving away VEX IQ and NXT Kits; ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds licenses; and two $1000 scholarships. Listed below are the official prizes:

Prizes

VEX Prizes FTC PrizesLevel Builder Prizes

The official rules are listed on the official Robotics Summer of Learning page.

You only have a few more days to enter for your chance at these awesome prizes, so sign up today!

Written by Cara Friez

August 15th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

FTC Kickoff 2013 Pittsburgh PA

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FTCicon

Join fellow PA FTC teams at this season’s Pennsylvania FTC Season Kick-off on September 7, 2013 from 11am to 4pm! This season it has expanded to three locations (East/Downingtown, Central/Millersville, West/Pittsburgh), and the three sites will be linked together to form one large virtual Kick-off event. The Pittsburgh event will take place at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

 
 
 

Schedule of Events:

11:00 Registration
11:15 Local Info Sessions / Tours (see below)
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks
1:10 Pennsylvania FTC 2013-2014 Season
1:30 Judging / Engineering Notebook Update
2:00 ROBOTC / Robot Virtual Worlds Update
2:30 TETRIX and Matrix Update
2:45 Break
3:00 2013-2014 FTC Game Reveal!
3:15 Local Game Discussion
4:00 Event Complete

Tour Information – Teams visiting the West/Pittsburgh region will have a chance to tour the National Robotics Engineering Center – a research hub of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Teams will learn about how state of the art robotic concepts are being utilized in commercial, agriculture and military applications. Teams will also get to see the research and development labs for Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Rescue, creators of CHIMP for the newest DARPA Robotics Challenge. Learn more by visiting http://www.rec.ri.cmu.edu.

Written by Cara Friez

August 14th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

ROBOTC Student – Kristen McKellar

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Kristen-McKellarWe had the chance to interview the lead programmer for FTC Team 5037, Kristen McKellar. She is an impressive programmer with a bright future ahead. Check out her story on how her knowledge of ROBOTC helped her win the National 4-H Engineering Challenge …
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
Are you a ROBOTC student who wants to share your story with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@robotc.net!

Written by Cara Friez

August 2nd, 2013 at 3:36 pm

A Teacher’s POV: My Child Wrote Code?

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Zany Animals Camp 2013

Originally posted on Grow a Generation Blog

by Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh

I took Grow a Generation to a recent Zumbathon fundraiser for the Yellow Ribbon Girls.  Several kids meandered over to the table while the moms were working out. I invited them to play around with the Scratch programming window that was opened on the computer.  One girl, I think about 10 or 11, became enamored with Scratch, asking how to make the cat she choose as a sprite move around the screen.  I showed her a few command codes and encouraged her to experiment.  Intent, she focused as hard on that screen as the 200+ moms focused on their workout. When the workout was over, her mom, exhausted and drenched, came to grab her hand and walk off. It took several attempts by me to convince the mom to actually look, and several more attempts to explain the daughter had not been playing a game, rather programming a new one. She had programmed her cat to dance a Zumba workout.  Even then, the mom didn’t seem to understand and finally looked closer to let her child explain the code she had put in place.  The mom was incredulous, “You mean my daughter actually programmed this?”

AliceI spent this week working with some brilliant young people as they were introduced to Alice 2, a free drag and drop educational programming language that allows students to create computer animations using 3D models. Our theme was Zany Animals and each student was tasked with inventing a creature and animating it with special qualities. J.K. Rowlings inventive imagination supplied fuel for our creativity while we looked at the etymology and origins of some great Harry Potter creatures (Basilisk, Phoenix, Hippogriff, Boggart, and Thestrals). The Discovery channel demonstrated some very real incredible animals and provided a template for our short nature documentaries. We discussed the ethics of animal experimentation and watch some videos of the current status on cloning, using animal to create pharmaceuticals and synthetic proteins, and grafting technology onto animals.

One of the uncles (a young man in his late twenties) stopped mid-week and looked around at the fun we were having.  He shared his remembrances of computer science class in high school, a black screen with detailed code he could not make work.  He had walked away from high school convinced Programming was something he could not learn.

His comments, alongside the mom’s at the Zumbathon, have me wondering about marketing.  Only five students enrolled in the camp.  While other factors played a part, how do I advertise to a generation who cannot conceive a child can begin to write code (and have fun doing it)?  How can we work to allow not just the technology teacher and the media lab director, but also the classroom teacher encourage computer programming and the creation of digital artifacts in the creative expression of their students.

I have had to journey my own learning curve this summer.  I am taking the CS2N Summer of Learning class in ROBOTC.  The Alice 2 tutorials I did in class were adapted from the CS2N Introduction to Alice class that is available free on their website. I learned alongside the kids and eagerly accepted the wonderful help of two area middle school STEM heroes who run their own programming classes in the homeschool network – Fiona and Joseph Chaney.

NatureDocumentary copy

The camp was such fun.  The kids learned to select an environment and create an establishing shot for their animals habitat.  They then created their creature by selecting the object of an animal and changing colors, textures, ear size, nose size, arm length, etc. They started animating their animal to demonstrate its incredible abilities and changing camera angles to tell a story. Finally, they added sound and narration to their animation.  All of this was done while learning basic computer care, where to save and recover files, and how to deal with constant messaging of “Alice thinks you made an error” and carry on through frustration.  The kids will be using the animations they created to enter the CS2N Nature Doc-u-mentary competition.

Two learning leap moments stood out.  The first was a child who had originally placed two dragons into the scene and they create a ‘method’ called fight.  He dragged the method into the editor box and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting.  He had not yet connected the need to write the script for each movement of each dragon to create the method.  The rest of his week was spent focused on getting a dragon to flap his wings. It tied in beautifully with a video on the last day about how computer animation team created the Thestral flight scene in the Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix movie. This boy was breaking down the abstract concepts of ‘fight’ and ‘fly’ and beginning to think in terms of modeling, algorithms, and sequence.

Another moment came when a student wanted to have a turtle disappear into his shell. I found a brief tutorial online (the Alice tutorials are out there, but they are not as easy to find as the Scratch tutorials) and he was able to follow it.  When I checked back in to examine his code, I was so impressed how he could walk me through the control structures he put in place for sequence, conditions, and parallel execution!

High points included sitting outside on a gorgeous rain free day in the shade under the tree at a picnic table at Baden Academy as students typed away on their netbooks creating their animals, inspired by the new surroundings and summer breeze.  Another was the look of such pride as parents and grandparents applauded to see the student creations on the screen in the lab at the end of the week.

Embarrassment of the week – despite a Ph.D., I could not visualize the need to invert the image on the iron on for the shirts – so if you see a smiling child wearing a shirt with a picture of their Zany Animal and all the text is backwards, know that you are looking yet another erratum of Dr. Ellen.

I close with a recent Facebook post from a mom: “John made this video in his computer class this past week. It is short but he has never done anything like this in the past. Wish the class was longer than five days. He loved it.”

Enjoy the kids work – and don’t forget to add your comments!

Bob Bobson

Crackfire

FireBall the Devious Hamster Crook

Moon Dragon

Turtle Chase

 

Written by Cara Friez

July 31st, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Cool Project: Monster Ball Sorting Factory

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Ray McNamara is relatively new to ROBOTC, having only really started to seriously use it within the past year, but already he’s come up with some interesting projects that caught our eye. The “Monster Ball Sorting Factory”, which he shared with us on the forum, is definitely a cool project we had to share.
 


 

The Factory is a cooperation between two robots Ray’s designed. One is an NXT Forklift truck, which uses a special non-standard part: a pair of Omni Wheels in the back to replace the standard single rotating wheel, which makes the Forklift’s turns a lot more reliable.

The other is a long, conveyor belt and claw arm robot that sorts balls piled onto a conveyor belt based on their color. It then puts them into containers, which the Forklift periodically takes and places in a slot so that the robot can dump it into a bigger bin. This robot is a combination of an earlier project, the “Bin Emptying Machine,” that takes the balls out of their container with a rail mounted crane that does the sorting.

We asked Ray about the project and his motivation for doing it and he replied:

“My Monster Sorter is still a work in progress, much to my wife’s annoyance due to the amount of real-estate it has been taking up in the lounge room since early December 2012.  I hope to have it all running on a single NXT (excluding the Forklift), by means of 2x Mindsensors Motor Multiplexers and 1x Mindsensors Sensor Multiplexer. If my calculations are right, the single NXT Brick will control 8x Motors and 10x Sensors.

My motivation was the challenge to learn how far I take the standard Colour Sorter model. It really started back in 2010, when I convinced Rotacaster Australia‘s GM to turn his industrial rollers into Omni-wheels for my LEGO Models and robots. After almost exhausting the possibilities of Holonomic Platforms, I looked into other uses for the Rotacaster Wheels, resulting in my Forklift Truck.

Once I had my Forklift Truck, I needed to put it to work. The Ball Sorting Factory was what evolved over a few days. Since then I have been fine tuning the hardware and the ROBOTC code used to control it. In the process, I have also been Beta Testing some Mindsensors Sensors and Multiplexers with it.

I always try to include a detailed description, photos, video, code and CAD files for my robots when they are published to my blog. Although it takes a lot of time to put my blog posts together, I feel it is worth it. I get a lot questions and praise from many people who use my resources. I especially enjoy helping out students with their queries.”

To download the code to this project, click here – ROBOTC Code for Factory and ROBOTC Code for Forklift.

Thanks to Ray for taking the time to respond to our questions! Visit Ray’s website at www.rjmcnamara.com to see more projects, pictures, codes, videos, and much more.

Do you have a cool project or video you want to share with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@robotc.net.

Written by Cara Friez

July 31st, 2013 at 3:55 pm