What is FIRST Robotics?

FIRST Robotics, a non-profit public charity created to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, was introduced in 2012 to P.K. Yonge, UF’s K-12 developmental research school. FIRST challenges teams to custom-build and program a robot—in six weeks’ time—to perform prescribed tasks against a field of international competitors.

The experience helps students gain technical knowledge and skills in science and engineering and experience life lessons on the value of collaboration and innovative thinking.

P.K. Yonge’s Roaring Riptide team

The Roaring Riptide robotics team, one of the youngest squads in the field, has taken the field by storm and in 2015 won the U.S. South regionals and placed 11th out of 76 teams in its division in the international FIRST Robotics championships in St. Louis. P.K. Yonge is exploring ways to implement similar activities in the middle and elementary school. The robotics competition embodies many qualities of a 21st century education: a science/engineering focused, hands-on, collaborative learning experience.

For a rookie team effort, the P.K. Yonge robot sparked a lot of interest on the competition floor. Other high performing teams worked tirelessly on fixes for the Roaring Riptide robot based on pure potential. The Roaring Riptide’s robot was able to be driven around the court, shoot baskets, and was most proficient at balancing on the “cooperation bridges” (requirements of the competition).

Riptide faculty adviser Kerry Thompson, a physics and biology teacher, said the experience is having a big impact on the students, academically and personally. Back at PKY, Thompson said the students were not very communicative but now interact frequently in class. Those who seemed to be lacking direction in planning their futures are now excited about robotics and pursuing engineering careers and many are eager to volunteer after school to start up robotics for younger students.

“This experience has opened their eyes to their own future possibilities,” Thompson said.

Connection to STEM

Robotics programs are a splendid pathway to careers in the vital STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math for today’s youth. At P.K. Yonge, UF’s K-12 developmental research school, there is a clear example of this pathway playing out early in the life of one PKY junior.

Eleventh-grader Logan Hickcox recently became one of youngest people in the nation to pass the Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate exam—and with a perfect score! This certification is an industry standard that allows holders to use this computer-based mechanical design program on a professional level.

Logan joined the P.K. Yonge Roaring Riptide FIRST Robotics Team 4118 as an 8th grader and in just a few weeks he was hooked. The ability to work alongside professional engineers and graduate students, to develop skills in communications and business relationships, and develop relationships with other Robotics teams across the state have helped Logan select an interesting path for his future.

P.K. Yonge is excited about robotics and is exploring ways to implement similar activities in the middle and elementary school. This competition embodies many qualities of a 21st century education: a science/engineering focused, project-based, experiential, collaborative learning experience.

Fast facts

  • Mentors coach and guide the robotics team members, but students develop solutions and do the work.
  • The Roaring Riptide, team 4118, placed 11th out of 76 in their division.
  • The team president, Logan Hickcox, was a recipient of the Dean’s List award.


Lynda Hayes director, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, and affiliate faculty member, UF College of Education

Related Links

P.K. Yonge robotics team vying for title in international competition

Ranking can be found here: http://frc-events.usfirst.org/2015/NEWTON/rankings