Friday, December 14, 2018

A New Year - A New Team

Painting the formerly blue (and larger - it didn't fit in my
new SUV) cart and adding some sweet upgrades
The weekend we said goodbye to our kids and sent them off to college, we had a robot retreat with the young team.  I took off for a private meeting in the barn (gosh it was hot in there in August) while the rest of the parents chatted around the pool.  I usually have one or two of these types of meetings with the kids every year where they can say anything and it is quite private.  We had some business to do.

We had a new kid to decide on bringing on the team - I wish I could reveal the content of the conversation but I can't - but I was so proud of their discussion.  They were thoughtful on the skills and quirks of the individual and decided that in the end, he was a good person inside and that was the most important part.  And he has been a great addition and has really shown great programming ability.

Newly painted cart and driver station almost
finished - looking really spiffy!
These meetings are where I allow all the anger and feelings of unfairness to come out and sometimes agree with them and we talk about what positive steps we can take in the future.  It gets it all out and we can move forward emotionally.  The second order of business was rectifying the team's feelings about FLL and doing just FTC now as well as what we would be called.   In the end, we are The Brainstormers FTC 8644 and have changed our color to red to distinguish the two groups and harken back to their Robot Revolution color scheme.

That meant a bunch of changes - like rebuilding and repainting the cart!  There are a few artistic ones on the team and that is great.  They decided to add the logo, freehand, to the sides and it looks amazing.  That is one way you make sure as a coach to use the skills of the kids and give them room to shine.

We gave them permission to be themselves.  They didn't need to be the returning world champions - they needed to be the latest reincarnation of that team.  I told them that the older kids only expected them to work hard and 'be honest, helpful, humble and nice" - in other words, be a "Brainstormer".

I asked the kids to table their eagerness to win for some of the season and take it slow this year and focus on skill building.  Reminding them that all this is really new to them and there is so much to learn.  If they leaned too much on one kid, they wouldn't get so far in the long run by taking that easy path when they are trying to win it all.  Better to sacrifice a year and have a huge building team, programming team, etc to share the load.  They will have five years at this and already had a short season in their pocket too.  And we coaches learned so much with the older team about team dynamics and skills needed - stuff we muddled through but could have done so much better guiding the kids, so we are being careful with this group.  Had the older ones had better coaches - they really could have done something.  I think they succeeded in spite of us.

One of the things we have been doing is exploring our thinking/doing processes as individuals - something I call Quiet Thinkers and Loud Triers.  By understanding this, we can partner the right people together for the right tasks and they each can realize the strengths and weaknesses they have when attacking a task.  For example, when thinking of ideas, the Loud Triers will tend to build before thinking as that is their process.  This looks to the Quiet Thinkers as if that kid has already come to a solution and they will keep their ideas to themselves.  It doesn't quite separate exactly by gender, but definitely our American culture rewards girls who exhibit quiet thinker behavior and boys who show loud trier behaviors.

The Quiet Thinkers working on the electrical system
- a tough job but one of the most important of the entire robot.
As you read before, it was mastering this system
that allowed our robot to always run and thus win
But when you get to some task like deciding the wiring system for the robot and getting the entire rat's nest controlled, insulated, etc, a quiet thinker team might be the perfect people to take it on.  We did that last week, asked the two oldest quiet thinkers (also girls) to become the masters of the electrical system for the next several years.  They spent four agonizing hours ripping it all apart and making it work correctly, marking the wires, figuring out the amperages, etc.  The most amazing thing was that when the battery and phone (brain) was plugged in, the robot worked and worked correctly which was the first time I had ever seen that happen (verified by the older kids).  We have a goal as coaches to get every kid into a technical role as much as they often will move away from something because they are either frustrated or don't feel confident in it.  We are encouraging lots of exploring and leadership and learning.  So we are really far behind for where the older team would be - but they are tackling this two grade levels lower than the others did.

But they have recently really gelled amazingly and their work sessions are sooo productive and they have been keeping up that rate.  The best is that we have now identified the three captains and they have been running the show - sometimes John and I stay upstairs for an hour to allow them to run it all and they have been doing a great job - freeing us up to teach skills.

The competition marker - looked like a time capsule
so we are going to stuff it with messages from the older team
to the younger one - they have been working together
since these kids can remember.
We have a twitter feed and there are a few videos on it that are funny.  My husband has been taking time lapse videos of their work sessions.  We have actually found them useful for the kids to review when writing their notebook entries to make sure they catch all the work that happened that day.  But I am sure in the future they will be invaluable to us as a history or nostalgic as we look back to the early days of their adventure.

One of the things happening at the moment is the collection of well wishes from the older team.  The competition this year has a team built 'marker' required that will be put by the robot in a box during the autonomous.  Ours is made (CAD designed and build on a 3D printer one of the girls built herself!) and it looks like a time capsule.  So before we glue the top on this weekend for our first competition, I am going to stuff it with the messages from the champs to the new team and they can break it open when our season is done and enjoy and laugh at the comments.

We have been getting back into the swing of our outreach as well, continuing to work in the inner city of Boston teaching robotics as well as mentoring three FLL teams locally.  The kids are doing a fantastic job and are wearing their new logo with pride and have been exemplifying the values embedded in it.

It is tough to teach other young kids these skills.  Often kids don't learn hand skills and so it makes these things more difficult (look for a blog on this in the future!), but they have been remarkably patient and encouraging.  We give the local program a big jolt forward every time we get there with the local kids being very interested in our kids and thus being far more willing to try something than when the center staff cajole them.  We take the center's staff lead and do whatever they think is needed to encourage and bring the kids along.  One session was all around nuts and screws and putting metal parts together to give them practice with fine motor skills.  I keep telling the center we are 'with them' for ten years so are happy to take the long approach with them like we do with our kids.  It is the only way to make a real difference.  Recently we helped them get a younger age group robotics system LEGO just introduced as well as tablets so the kids can have more success and then build back up to the harder robot system as too many were getting frustrated.  Latest pictures and reports are that the system is a huge hit and just the right point developmentally.  We even had the center kids help us research the system while we were there to make them a part of the decision.

It has been an up and down season so far, my husband and I have to steel each other at times to remind ourselves of what the older team was like their first year and stand back and give the kids the opportunity to fail at things when you know how to keep out of the problem or could tell them the answer.  At times I tell the other parents how hard it is to watch the slow moving train wreck some days - but then they will suddenly learn the lesson and do the next round so much better as they internalized things. I am blessed with a group of parents who are totally behind the concept of failing to success - if more parents were like this, kids would be in much better shape these days.

I'll give you an update sometime later when there is something to tell.  We will be competing until at least end of February if we don't get an advancement slot, so we still have a few months to go!

1 comment:

  1. Hand skills are so important! What Beloved and I learned from our parents and grandparents isn't being taught these days very much. And it's too bad. Nothing is better than making something yourself from scratch.