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It only takes a spark

Hong Kong FIRST® team starts small, dreams big

Published February 17, 2020

In 2003, Matthew was just 15 years old when he experienced a personal tragedy, the loss of his father. Looking for some way to help Matthew channel his grief, Chi Mau Cheung, design and technology teacher at the Carmel Secondary School in Hong Kong, lent him some robotics materials, a laptop, and the ROBOLAB programming software. “I wanted to use the project to encourage him not to give up,” said Cheung. “Maybe it could help him forget his pain for a little while and [let him] concentrate on his potential.”

Using the robotics sets sparked a passion for robotics that Matthew quickly passed on to his classmates. He invited them to form a FIRST® LEGO® League team with him, and, in 2006, the Carmel Secondary School robotics team was born. Since then, the Carmel team has moved from FIRST LEGO League to forming Vanguard, a FIRST Tech Challenge team started in 2016 that won first place in robot performance as well as the Spirit of Discovery Award at the 2019 Lunar Legacy Invitational in Arizona.

“The team was founded in a student-led way, highly spontaneous,” said Cheung. “After being established, the team further developed. We started joining more and more tournaments to challenge ourselves. . . . Over the past 13 years, our school has made remarkable achievements in FIRST, building a great sense of achievement and motivation.”


What began as a spontaneous action from one student has now become a continuous journey of learning, growth, and ownership among all Carmel robotics students. Cheung provides ample opportunities for students to learn about and join the robotics teams. During the FIRST Annual Information Day, Carmel robotics team members share their experiences with interested students, encouraging them to join the team. “By showing our achievements and working lives on pull-up banners and welcoming visitors to play our mini robotics games, they learn more about us and our culture,” said Cheung.

Cheung also sets up training programs to boost interest in robotics. “Students are exposed to new areas that they have not encountered before, allowing them to develop their abilities and interests,” Cheung explained.


But while Cheung provides opportunities, the learning and team effort is truly student led. “The pass-on spirit in our team is particularly strong,” said Cheung. “Senior students are willing to teach as much as they can to younger students to help them absorb, ‘inherit,’ some of the skills and knowledge. Even some alumni . . . come back to school to see the progress before the competition, providing concrete and useful advice to junior members to further improve and polish their performances.”

Cheung has seen remarkable changes in his robotics students over the years. “They are more willing to shoulder more responsibilities, to contribute more to the team in different roles. . . . They will work after school, sometimes in the morning before school, or even on the lunch break. They won’t miss any chance to improve themselves.”

And Matthew, who started it all with his passion for robotics and willingness to share it with others, is now a software development engineer in Golden, Colorado. Colorado – living proof that it only takes a small spark to ignite a lifelong passion for learning.


The Vanguard FIRST Tech Challenge team likes to use TETRIX® to build their robots. “We like TETRIX’s flexibility and strength,” said Cheung. “TETRIX can build up with other materials very well, like acrylic board, wooden boards, and so on. We can build our car with other materials more easily with the use of TETRIX components. This encourages a more diversified use of different materials to improve the performance of our car, which is beneficial to our long-term developments and the innovation of new ideas. Moreover, the durability of TETRIX is also one of its outstanding strengths, since our robot needs to be durable and strong.”

Outside of the U.S. and need a TETRIX set for your FIRST team? Contact Annie Edson at aedson@pitsco.com.

“I haven’t felt this appreciated as a teacher for a long time! I was feeling blessed already, and then I won a $750 grant from Pitsco Education.”

– Nicolette Hall, Sapulpa Public Schools, Sapulpa, Oklahoma

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