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Central Valley Robotics (CVR) is inspiring California’s next generation of STEM professionals with the FIRST LEGO League, a robotics program that teaches learning and teamwork to students¬†age 3-16. When CVR needs to write and distribute materials for their teams, they use Confluence and Comalatech Publishing to get the job done.¬†

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is an international youth organization that gives students hands-on STEM learning opportunities like the LEGO League, a robot-building competition where teams compete to fulfill different tasks and challenges with their robots.

While the robot competition may be the (awesome) face of the program, the heart is teamwork and problem-solving. “I always describe it like this: FIRST teaches kids how to work together in teams to solve problems,” says Michael Adam, Executive Director of Central Valley Robotics, the NPO which delivers the program in the Central Valley region of California. Along with the competition, students participate in a yearly research project focused on solving real-world issues in the community and learn a set of core values including gracious professionalism and “co-opertition”. Even when competing, teams are expected to help each other out – if one team’s robot breaks down, the other teams will jump in to help.

Throughout the program, students learn practical STEM skills like coding, design work and critical thinking. At higher levels, teams operate almost like a business, with many members in support and management roles.  Today there are 600-800 students involved in the Central Valley region, with over 40,000 teams participating worldwide.

With so many students, coaches and parents involved, communicating the details of each year’s program – the research focus, competition rules and event schedules – needs to be done right. Of course a STEM program ought to use the best and latest tech, which makes Confluence a perfect fit.

Michael was already familiar with the web-based documentation platform from his job as a software engineer. In particular, he found that Confluence’s wiki format solved the usual versioning issues found with file formats like PDFs and Word documents, where even a small change means sending out new files, and multiple versions are often floating around at the same time. It was also helpful that Confluence is available at a reduced price to non-profits, while app vendors like Comalatech offer their Confluence add-ons for free.

To make sure the latest, up-to-date version of the Confluence manuals are distributed, CVR uses Comala Publishing, an app that allows you to easily copy Confluence content from one space to another. With the help of Comala Publishing, CVR’s staff is able to develop and stage the manuals in a private draft space within Confluence. When the new season starts, they can publish the manuals to another space that is available to coaches, staff and teams. Any changes or edits are also easy to publish and update, and their audience only ever sees the latest approved version.

“It’s valuable for us to manage, publish and get rid of those weird versioning problems you get with PDFs,” Michael says. “Other partners and regions ask, ‘How did you design this? We love it!’ Now other regions have borrowed it and made it their own. It set a precedent for FIRST.”

For the Central Valley region, the FIRST program has achieved several ‘firsts’ itself. One high school had its first student attend MIT from the robotics team. Another student who participated in an animation component went on to work for Pixar. And Michael himself was a student in the very first year of the program. “It helps kids find their passion, even if it’s not robotics or STEM. It gets them thinking and working together to solve the problems that face the world.”

Learn more about Central Valley Robotics and the FIRST LEGO League, or visit the Atlassian Marketplace to try Comala Publishing for free. To find more case studies from Comalatech, visit Our Clients page.