This past Saturday my First Lego League Robotics team competed at the regional competition against 34 other teams at the Putnam Museum. Since starting out in September we have had a long journey getting ready up to this point. Along the way we have learned many things and we were lucky enough to pull everything together Saturday and earn a spot to compete at state on January 19th.
The day started early as always and the team was ready to go. With so many teams I really felt like this regional was operated amazingly! It was smooth, stress free, and well managed. We started off bright and early with our first robot run. Our robot did okay earning about 260 points. However, our leader of our robotics did not take the extra step to ensure that everything was marked on the judges form and we only earned 240 points. This was a very valuable lesson. The team met with the judges with gracious professional to discuss the matter after only seeing 225 points pop up on the screen. This was very important life lesson. First, taking time to always double check your work to ensure no mistakes were made. Even more important when leading a team you want to make sure you are doing all the small things correctly. We have stressed this all season and it finally caught up to us. Secondly, learning how to deal with a source of conflict. Anger and getting frustrated never solves the problem. But, by speaking responsibly and professionally things can be remedied. We did not earn all of our points, but we made the mistake.
Next we moved on to the Core Values portion. I don’t know what was all done and accomplished. The team said the challenge was easy and they did a great job. I take their word for it. It was amazing to watch our older students take charge. Before the session they rallied the team and created a mock challenge in the museum to practice. It was amazing to watch them come together. Leadership was one thing that myself and the other coach both felt was lacking all season and it was great to finally see glimmers of leadership taking shape.
We had our second robot run after Core Values and during this run we scored the highest run of the day with 292 points. We felt good about this, but we were not satisfied. Our robot is capable of much more and we also know by looking around at other states and regionals that we have some serious work to do if we want to be competitive with the robot. Our max is 400 points and our new goal will be to hit 500 over the next few weeks. This year it was unique that they did not hand out a trophy for the best robot performance.I am not sure why this is as this is how it has always been done. We took honorable mention with the highest robot run because they combined robot design presentation and the robot performance. This was a little frustrating because for once we actually had a great robot and did not get the recognition we felt we deserved. This just makes us hungrier and ready to get better.
Right before lunch we had out Research presentation. If you asked any of us if we were ready for this we would have shuddered. During our dress rehearsal Monday it was a mess. We were just not syncing and will doing to do the little things necessary to be effective. However, the team put their ego aside as recommended and nailed it. They delivered a fantastic presentation. I was very proud of them to be able to actually apply all things they have been taught. We ended up winning our state entry with our project presentation.
Our last robot run went solid as well. This was first year having a consistent robot. We had some issues that we need to address to make things work better as we smashed the ball contraption, but we know what we need to do.
Finally, we had the robot design performance where had to talk about our robot. We did the best any of our teams have ever done. The robot ran well and the students did well. One student was nailed at the end as he was caught not paying attention. We talked in our practice about how to behave and conduct yourself during presentations and this student went against the grain and like we told the team the judges will get you and they did! It did not hurt us, but it was another great learning opportunity that we will talk about as a team when we meet again.
There is so much learning that takes place by participating in the First Lego League. The robot board generates the interest, but what really makes this program shine is all the soft skills and 21st century skills that these students need to use to operate and problem solve.
It was a great weekend. We are now back to basics to figure out our areas of weakness and what we need to do to be ready for state. The whole challenge just took on a whole new meaning. We don’t scrap everything, but we view and operate with a critical eye looking at what needs to be done collectively as a team and as individuals.
In all my years of teaching I have yet to find anything close to FLL that compares to preparing students for the real world through speaking effectively and clearly, working with others, problem solving, and being able to step out of your comfort zone for the sake of a team.
I recently wrote a letter about First Lego League that discusses some of the key elements to this program and I would like to share it here
Currently, I am in my third year coaching a FLL robotics team. At our school we host a two-week summer camp free of charge where any student in grades 5-8 can attend. During this camp we teach them how to build and program. Each year myself and another coach/teacher create obstacles for them to complete. During the two-week period students also have to conduct research much like the FLL process. We invited parents and the community to attend the final two days so the students can show off their hard work and accomplishments. From the camp we select a team that includes all grade levels and boys and girls to coach for the FLL competition. We have had much success over the years. As a gifted education teacher and seeing how education is changing I firmly believe that this whole operation from the robot to the research is one of the most valuable teaching tools available.
I believe in this program so much that I have been working very hard to make robotics a class for all students in our buildings. With the emergence of Common Core and 21st century skills this program completes it all. I won’t even go into how it all fits as it is obvious with STEM and so forth.
From both a teacher/parent/coach what I find most valuable with this product and program is that we are able to watch students grow and mature. Our older students act as leaders and mentors and teach the younger students. Everyone has to contribute and everyone has to have a part in every aspect. With the various grade levels and maturity levels that this brings it can be quite difficult. With proper mentoring and coaching on our end, we have created a system where our 7th and 8th grade students take the lead and prepare the younger students to take over when their time comes. The whole teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving aspect is what is truly important through use of the Mindstorm kits and programming.
What makes this program work is that for many of our students it provides them for the first time with that sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. They have finally found their niche and a team they can relate too. Additionally, the subtle competition aspect gives them the motivation to want to do well. For many of our students, this is the first time they have been in this type of mindset.
I have had the luxury of watching a few of our students start off as 5th graders scared, timid, shy, and lacking confidence and progressing to 8th graders beaming with confidence, avid leaders, teaching, and maturing in ways that I firmly believe they would not have done without this program and product.
As I think on a larger scale I envision exposing more students in our district to this program. What this will allow us to do is continue to bring these elements in to all grades. I would love to bring in the early elementary students into the world of Lego by exposing them to all the models and kits that are now available. This would be a huge building block preparing them for the robotics aspect. Once they leave the middle school, then they would be ready for the high school robotics and thinking.
I think that by helping students find an interest and passion in the late elementary/middle school grades is vital. If you don’t help them connect by this stage in life it can be too late for them. They have so much talent and with a bit of guidance it is amazing what these students can accomplish. The goal is to reach out o more students to see how far reaching we can make this and give more students opportunities. By far this is the most rewarding coaching job I have and I coach several teams and sports throughout the year.