The LEGO Mountaineers, FIRST Jr. Robotics Team #1144
Four years ago, I volunteered as a mentor for a high school robotics team in the U.S. FIRST Competition. For the past three years, I have had the privilege of coaching a group of talented home school girls in the Jr. Robotics league. Our team, the LEGO Mountaineers, has done well each year, winning awards in various areas such as research presentation, judges award, and team spirit award. While the girls, excelled in many areas, there was always ample opportunity for improvement. (In the past, their robot ranked 39 out of 44. Not a great score.)
At the start of this year's robotics season, the girls announced that they intended to win the Director's award -- the award given for the team with the highest achievement overall. The Director's award is a difficult award to earn, and is usually awarded to the larger, more experienced, school teams. (Our team was quite small this year, with only 5 girls)
As a coach, I see the strengths and weaknesses of our team. My job is to direct the team so that each child develops her skills, and is able to contribute to the team. I knew the work that they would have to do to try to win this award.
I told the girls that if they really wanted to win the Director's award, I would be happy to coach them towards that goal. With that agreement, we spent the early weeks -- while other teams were already building their robots -- focused on studying the goal (the award criteria, etc) and visualizing what it would take to win the award and what winning would be like. We created mind maps of the process and of the things we would need to accomplish to reach the goal. We then broke these down into specific next actions. (i.e. collect parts, build robot, plan mission, etc.).
For the next 10 weeks, we focused on outcomes and actions -- all moving towards the goal of delivering our best performance at the competition. (The competition consists of robot design, field competition, technical presentation, research presentation, sportsmanship, etc..)
We spent a little less time on the robot this year and more time on the theory of planning, goal setting, mind mapping, game strategy, the GTD methodology, and flowcharting. I am confident that these skills contributed to the girls' ability to be ready for anything that they would encounter at the competition.
This past weekend, the girls competed at a regional FIRST Jr. Robotics competition in Southern California. Not only did their robot finish in first place in their division, they finished 3rd overall for robot performance (score) on the field.
At the award ceremony, the judges called the LEGO Mountaineers, to award them the distinguished Director's award for top achievement in all categories.
I'm very proud of them.
The girls have been maintaining a Blog site so that they can share their experiences. This year, the girls provided almost daily updates of their progress, challenges, and successes. I encourage you to stop visit and, if you are inclined, post some words of encouragement. if you have a young person in your life, you may want to share the site with them. FIRST is a great program to inspire children to pursue math, science and technology.
We were fortunate this year to have several distinguished sponsors and partners, who helped provide the funds, software, and encouragement to help the children get things done. We even had a visit from Microsoft's Channel 9 guy. You can learn more about all of this on the LEGO Mountaineer's Blog site.
I plan to share my thoughts on how to coach an all-girls Jr. Robotics team to success. Look for this and video clips on the girls' Blog site in the weeks to come.