The New Cool

This is a Trinity team (minus two members) with their coach, ready to board the bus to head off to an important match. Actually, the most important match of their season. They’ve been practicing and learning to work together as a team for about seven months. They’ve put in long, long hours. When I’ve been over at the school after hours and late at night, it’s often this team that is still there when I leave.

The competition is fierce. They have to learn to play offense and score; and they have be clever and tenacious to play defense. They also have to learn to work together in alliances, which are part of the contests.

Everyone has a role, and the roles are different. Some of these students will be calling the shots and driving things. Some will be like the crew in a NASCAR pit. No one is superfluous, and they’ll never know until the day of the contest just what critical role will be required of each.

They’ll have to call some audibles too. Things change on the game floor. Unexpected challenges, injuries and breakdowns, powerful and skilled opponents—the team will need to be nimble and quick to land on their feet and make adjustments on the fly.

We are proud of this team. In three years, we’ve fielded five teams, and four have gone to the World Championship. That’s where this group is heading in the picture. The Trinity bus took them to the airport on Tuesday, and they flew to St. Louis for the greatest high school contest in this sport.

This is Trinity Robotics. This is the program which Mark Butler (with the hat in the picture) imagined and started three years ago. This is one of the best competitive sports of the mind.

They call themselves Artificial Stupidity. I like to swirl the irony of that around in my head. They are a lot smarter than their robot, but don’t let that fool you: they’ve built a pretty good robot. 2827, as it is affectionately known, earned first place for the Think Award, second for the Inspire Award, and second for the Connect Award at the NC Regionals in Greensboro a couple of months ago. Our Junior Team (3587), Unparalleled Processing won several important accolades as well, including first place in the Rockwell Collins Innovate Award.

Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST (For Inspiration in Science and Technology), likes to say that “it’s not about the robot”:

The robot is just a vehicle, just a tool. The skill set you take away with will give you careers for a lifetime. FIRST is a genuine card-carrying microcosm of the real world of engineering. We give you a little time, never as much as you need. We give you a little bit of material, never what you’d really want. You never know what the competitors are doing. FIRST really is a way to show you what the world of science, technology, inventing, and problem solving is. It’s all hard, and if this frustrates you, tough, it’s important.

Trinity Robotics (Volunteer!) Founder and Coach, Mark Butler, has affirmed the same thing:

It's about what you learn along the way. It's about allowing young people a glimpse of what it could be like to work in a technical area and inspiring them. It is about growth and transformation as a young person confronts a difficult technical problem that requires them to create something new out of their own imagination -- and then discovering that they can do it. It is about learning to work with, rely on, and appreciate other members of your team, and other teams as well. It is about learning to deal with the clash of different creative approaches from your teammates, when you are all facing down an unfamiliar problem. It is about connecting with others in your community -- helping others, and receiving help from them.

Neal Bascomb has chronicled this exciting phenomenon in his book, The New Cool. The premise is that we are embarking on a century when it will be important, even essential, for the skills and competencies developed in a program like FIRST, to be as cool as athletics is in our current culture. And the great thing about this is that every one of these students competing in FIRST can go pro in STEM.

They say a culture gets what it celebrates. It’s exciting to support a program that celebrates these many excellences, so important for thriving in the world our students will inhabit.

The Varsity Robotics team has a website at

You can follow them at the World Championship on twitter @ftc2827. We’ve also set up a screen in the Upper School so that the students can follow them through the live stream video the team will be providing.


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