I am in the middle of my sixth season coaching a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team. Each year has furthered my belief that FLL is valuable for all those that are involved. Recently, on December 5th, my team participated in the Cedar Falls Regional Qualifier. It was a great day for the team. Not only did they perform well, but they were able to learn a few things. I got to witness definite growth in some of the team members, including their confidence in themselves.
If you have not been to a FLL event, let me explain why you should attend (especially if you have grade school, middle school/junior high age children). First, this is an event that celebrates problem solving. It also celebrates team work and cooperation between teams. Second, there is ample energy and lots of creativity. Teams have cheers. Teams hand out things. Some have costumes, others have unique hats. There are lots of high fives. During breaks in the action, you might see adults and kids doing the Macarena. Third, you will see LEGO robots perform autonomously – hit a button and the robot does its thing without human guidance. You see success and sometimes non-success. There is celebration when things go right and disappointment when the robot is a little off. Fourth, you will see solutions to real world problems. As part of FLL, teams are to create a solution to a real problem. This year, teams were challenged to make less trash or improve the way people handle the trash that is produced. These youth come up with ideas that are amazing. And last, did I say you will experience enthusiasm? The youth exhibit energy and excitement that is contagious.
The Cedar Falls Regional Qualifier exhibited all those traits and more. From a coaching standpoint, seeing the youth show off their hard work at the event is fun. Seeing their faces light up when the robot performs as planned or the project presentation is given without incident is justification for the hours of volunteering throughout the season. With each success throughout the day, I saw their confidence grow and for the first timers, they truly believed they could do this.
As I mentioned, my team, the Bricks of Brilliance, did well. We were awarded the Global Innovation Award, which recognized our project and solution (a potato chip bag that is totally recyclable). We also achieved the second highest point total for a robot performance. And last, we were awarded the Champion’s Award. Now, we are preparing for the state competition in Ames on January 16th.
I feel obligated to add some final comments about the value of FIRST LEGO League. I have mentioned my thoughts in previous blogs, but recent experiences have further demonstrated the value of the program. The youth that participate in FLL get to problem solve in a team setting. They have to learn to work together and respect others’ ideas in order to succeed. Also, success must be celebrated. This breeds confidence in the youth, which further enhances what is accomplished. Not only do the youth build with LEGOs, but they must also communicate with team members, coaches, referees, judges, and other teams. Something I have learned recently is that FLL allows for leadership traits to be grown and strengthened by the youth, coaches, and mentors. There must be youth to step up and lead, especially when new members join a team. Also, adults can grow their leadership experience by coaching and mentoring. And last, another recently learned value of FLL is that the events foster networking. This happens for the youth and adults. After the Cedar Falls Regional Qualifier, I thought about all the familiar faces I saw and how I have interacted with them outside of FLL. FLL creates that common bond that allows for conversations to start and with the eventual realization that they posses many similarities, more than just a passion for LEGOs. I have come to the conclusion that FLL can be a uniter.