Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crazy Weekend Part 1: Robotics

Last weekend was the culmination of several months of craziness: robotics team meetings and Nutcracker rehearsals, endless details to manage (where in town can I buy a pink leotard? tri-fold presentation boards? Do I have all of the team permission slips filled out?) Of course, it was all worth it as we headed off to the regional robotics competition with our team Veni Vidi Roboti excited to see their robot on the field and present their research project, and as Asa took the stage in her first dance solo.

Unfortunately, bad weather in the form of horrifying ice and sleet made the roads a skating rink (32 accidents in one stretch of I-5 alone) and this complicated our plans greatly. The night before the robotics tournament, we still weren't sure if it was even going to occur, but finally after 3 hours of delays, the tournament did take place on Saturday for which I was very grateful. These kids have worked way too hard to miss out on competing!

The team had a great time at the tournament. They really impressed me with their morale, their coolness under difficult circumstances, their ability to work as a team, and their overall positive and encouraging attitude. Unfortunately, the robot took on a mind of its own at the tournament, with programs that worked fine on the practice table suddenly going haywire on the actual competition table. It was very frustrating for the kids, but they really were very professional about it all. I was extremely proud, both as a coach and as a parent, of this team. I know that we coaches really did our job well not when the robot scored high (it didn't), but when the kids accepted what had happened, worked to fix what they could, and moved forward with a positive attitude. This is not easy for adult engineers, so to see a team of kids accomplish this was impressive.

Of course, the robot performance is only 25% of the total competition, with the rest coming from the teamwork judging, robot technical judging, and the research project presentation judging. I knew the team would knock the socks off of the judges in those areas and they did. They ended up winning first place in the research project category. I haven't posted anything about their project up until now, because I didn't want to give away their subject publicly. The theme this year was transportation, they were to identify a transportation problem in their community, and propose a solution for that problem. Almost all of the teams at the competition chose things like pedestrian safety, school bus scheduling, walking and biking to school, etc. Well, our team chose the solar system as their community, and the problem of orbital debris (or "space junk") as the problem. Their research involved things like calling up a NASA representative, metal recycling specialists, and arranging a tour for themselves at a local metal recycling facility. They really poured a lot of energy into this project and it showed. I'll have to post the text of it here later this week as it was truly impressive. I could tell the judges were really impressed with what they had accomplished.

Lastly, the icing on the cake for the competition was that they got a Core Values Nomination from the head judge. FLL takes their core values very seriously, and they place a big emphasis on teams exhibiting these values, including the value of "gracious professionalism" which means competing like crazy but respecting and exchanging ideas with your competing teams. Here you can see a moment that occured in a hallway between competition rounds where our team and another got a moment to discuss their robot designs. This is really what FLL is all about, right here, the learning and growth that occurs when these kids share what they've learned with each other.

Before we went to this competition, I had told the team that I didn't care a bit if they won or were the absolute last on the robot table, but if they came away from the competition having done their best and worked well as a team I would be very happy. Well, they accomplished all of that and then some, and as always I'm honored to have been a part of their journey, and very proud of all the work that they put into this competition. Having the head judge acknowledge their teamwork and core values really just confirmed what I knew about these great kids.

1 comment:

gillian said...

Great to hear of your progress!

Could you recommend a couple of LegoMindstorms how to books that you've enjoyed? We're only just starting on this journey, but we're quick to learn.

Many thanks,

Gillian and kids