Agency at First LEGO League

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This weekend FLL (First LEGO League) regionals took place all over the country.  I took my team to Estherville.  This was our first year and it blew us away.  I mean robots are awesome, right, but what we experienced exceeded just playing with LEGOs.  The students worked hard practicing once a week after school for a couple months and then we added Saturdays as well.  We had a lot of work to get done.  We did team building activities, like human robots.  They had to write a “program” for a human robot to follow in order to complete a task.  We learned a great deal about interval and precision.  We used some programming apps like Cargo-Bot and Fix the Factory to develop our sense of logic while programming.  We also dove into the Mindstorms EV3 programming software.  To test out our designs we utilized the Commander app which turns your iPad into a remote control for your LEGO EV3 robot.  It’s great for a prank when your teams not paying attention;-)

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The “Robot Game” as they call it in FLL, is not the only component to the event.  The team also has to conduct research and create a presentation on a subject related to the theme.  This year’s theme was Nature’s Fury, so they had to pick a natural disaster to research, identify a problem that occurs before, during, or after the disaster and then come up with a solution.  My team went with the obvious choice of Limnic eruptions.  Anyway, at the event they had to present their project to judges who asked them questions about it.  This is when they shined.  I expected one or two of them to do all the talking, but they shared the responsibility.  The team had to go to other judging sessions as well: robot design and core values.  Coaches and parents can be present for all the sessions and the robot game, except for core values.  That, of course, is the event we won a trophy.  I wonder what they said in there?  Hmm. 

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The robot game is what draws the crowd and our robot didn’t disappoint.  No, not because we blew away the rest of the field with points, because of the carnage.  In our first round we obliterated one the obstacles.  They had to get the directions out to figure out how it went back together.  Unfortunately no points awarded.

My big take away for the day was the amazing amount of agency that was expected and encouraged of the team.  In FLL the coaches are facilitators.  I couldn’t program, build, research, or present anything.  My role was to develop those abilities, but the ownership of their products (the robot, programming, and project) were entirely their own.  Would their scores have been higher if I had helped?  Probably.  Would their presentation have been smoother and more interesting if I had jumped in and took over?  Could be, but they truly would have lost out on the experience and the growth that was inherent.  That day they were already reflecting on the experience and what they would do differently.  And boy are they fired up for next year, they want to start as soon as possible.  Today we have our celebration/take apart all the pieces party.  We’ll also start making plans.  So watch out for the A-team next year.  In the meantime, I would look into starting an FLL club in your area.  You’ll be amazed at what they can do with a little agency.