CyberPatriot changed my career in many ways. That first group was an amazing year. None of us knew what we were doing. The students, mentor, and I were not sure how to train. We did it every Wednesday afternoon for a couple of hours. We found all of the resources we could and we had never worked with a virtual environment before. The mentor, Richard, was very helpful and we soon developed a sense of what we were doing. The more we got into the program the more we needed to train. Both of our teams trained together but were in separate rooms for the competition. The competitions were grueling for 6 hours and working on multiple machines. We learned a rhythm to competing and became very good on competition days. We were always in the echelons of the preliminary rounds but didn’t think much of it. We qualified for the national semi-finals but we were still thinking about this as a fun activity. We came into the round positive and had fun and we got a perfect score but still thought that it was fun and that we had a good year.
It is important at this time to get a sense of a competition round in a class. Our first decision is whether to do 6 hours after school on a Friday night or to do the 6 hours on a Saturday were everyone was fresh. Next is food. Snacking is a must and it has ranged from cookies and chips all the way to veggie plates with a healthy dip. The one thing I could never forget was the year of hummus. I fought the hummus crowd with healthy popcorn. Anyone who knows computer kids must know that we were fueled by pizza and Mtn. Dew. Sometimes we would splurge and get Sr. Pepper. To this very day, I still have a mini fridge in my classroom stocked with soda in case a competition breaks out. I am a drinker of Coke Zero so the kids have free reign over my fridge. The room is cluttered with notebooks and reference books kids have created. We also tend to have a “pacing” section in the room for those that must be moving and pacing back and forth. Also to this day, my classroom has a large open area in the middle of the room for pacing. The good news is that it has now been adapted to a robot race track as well. We are also good at cleaning up afterward. The custodian many years ago just gave us a box of big trash bags and use them at every competition.
After the national semi-final round, we got a call several days later telling us that we had won a trip to Washington DC for the national finals. It was an exciting adventure for me to take these young men to Washington DC. My other couch could not come so I was able to take another friend and fellow STEM teacher. There are a few more stories to come about this visit and one three years later.