Monday, November 24, 2014

First Lego League

The FIRST LEGO League (also known by the acronym FLL) is an international lego robotics competition organized for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14). I heard about FLL through one of my homeschooling email groups and after researching a little about it, decided that I would love for my kids to be able to participate on a team. I looked into joining a specific team, but the dynamics of when and where that particular team met were not right for our family. Then I thought of starting my own team, but got overwhelmed with all the details it entailed. Finally, I found out that my friend Rachel was starting a team and still had room for my kids to join. Yay!

We thought that being on an FLL team was going to be all about Legos, engineering, and programming, but once we got into it we realized that those aspects were only a small portion of the experience. It's also about team-building, problem solving, community outreach, creative thinking, and a whole lot of practice. We met for 3-6 hours a week and at the end of the season we barely felt like we were scratching the surface of what we needed to know. The other two families' kids had all had previous experience with Lego robotics, so we felt like we started the season several steps behind everyone else.

The other team members were patient with our inexperience and Rachel was an extraordinary coach who taught us and helped everyone to have a good experience. This past Saturday, the season came to an end with an all-day tournament and we finally got to see our season of work pay off.

During the tournament they had a few different match-ups against other teams for the robot to complete the assigned tasks. Each round was only 2-1/2 minutes long and each team's score was based on how many tasks were accurately completed by the robot in that period of time. Our team's philosophy was short programs that did just a task or two at a time. It wasn't as time efficient, but it increased the likelihood of the robot not getting off task. Each member of the team contributed to the programming and helped with the competition table dynamics.

But the robotics aspect only constituted a third of their potential points.

The competition also included a team-building activity and several interviews with the team members. They were given the opportunity to show how they worked together as a team and were asked in-depth questions about how their team incorporated the FLL Core Values into their practices and competition.

The final aspect of the competition was their team's presentation. They presented a play about music appreciation, which may seem a little funny in a lego robotics competition, but it went along with the theme of learning, which was the overall theme of this year's competition. They also got to tell a little about the community outreach they did at the preschool a couple of weeks ago. Their presentation was a cute little play that involved a retelling of the Good Samaritan and Ellie singing the song from the Lego Movie, "Everything is Awesome!"

Even with the interviews, presentations, and head-to-head robot competitions, there was still a lot of sitting around between events for the day. In the meantime there was lots of giggling, practicing their robot transitions….

and even some snuggling!

Our team (the Orange Oranges) was not even close to winning the tournament, but with the wide variety of ages and experience levels of our team members, they did pretty darn awesome. Their robot scored over 100 points and that was with every single team member being able to participate in every single aspect of the competition.

It turned out to be a whole lot more work than we expected it to be, but in the end it was one of those challenging experiences where everyone learned a ton, made new friends, and stretched themselves academically and socially.

In other words, it was worth every second of it!

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