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Judging a Lego League Robotics competition, and what I learned.

November 21, 2011

What a Saturday.  I caught wind of the NC FIRST Lego League through a series of Tweets, and found out the Regional competition was happening on November 19th, and needed volunteers.  I ended up being a judge, and had a ball.  39 teams of 9-14 year old kids, from around the area of Winston-Salem and Greensboro were competing for a chance at 12 slots into the state competition in January.  Each team competes in three areas, Core Values, Project, and Robotics.  I was a judge in the Core Values, and what an experience.  The three Core Values of FLL are Inspiration, Teamwork, and Gracious Professionalism ™.

To observe the three Core Values, each team had to perform a task in front of the judges (we were divided into pairs, and there were 4 sets of judges for CV.) .  That task was to build a model tower or house out of newspaper, tape, staples, and 2 ballpoint pens.  In 3 minutes.  As a team.  The kids did not know what the task was until they walked in the room, and we told them the task, then pressed go on the stopwatch.  What a gas to watch them perform.  On average, these kids had been together as a team since beginning of school year, yet some teams have had only 4 weeks to be together.  This is pretty high stress on this bunch.  I was blown away by how well most of the teams did, and several were able to complete the task and have a standing tower or house model.

Next up was a Q&A session that allowed us to see how the team acted with each other in a somewhat rapid fire session of questions and answers, to see if everyone helped participate or if one kid answered for the group.  Was great study in the group dynamic.  After the Q&A they had to move on to the next judging station, which was either the Project or the Robotics side of the judging competition.

Projects were done as a team, and the best way to describe it is a Science Fair type project.  All teams in the state compete with the same Question (this year’s dealt with food safety) and once again, each member had to contribute and know the subject matter.  Third judging area was the technical parts of the robotics, and if they knew how to program, construct, and problem solve the Lego Mindstorm NXT robots.

After the morning judging sessions, it was on to the competitions.  Prior to the competitions, we judges scored the top 16 teams in our three areas, and then set out to observe the teams in action.  The competition is the thing these kids work so hard for.  Each team’s robot has 2 and a half minutes to complete a series of tasks.  (Competition tasks were given in advance)  I learned its harder than you think to make a program work the way you want it to!  There were 3 rounds of competition with the highest score counting.

I learned so much about these kids.  They show a genuine interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and as an engineering type, that makes me happy.  The enthusiasm for the projects, the teamwork shown by these kids could be an example for us as adults to remember.  One other thing I was struck by was how supportive of teammates these kids were.  They were genuinely caring and there for each other.  Yes, there were some teams that had built the camaraderie better than the others, including 1 team that had been together for just a week, but there was a sense of belonging together and true friendships being made.  This is why programs like NC FIRST LL are desperately needed in our society.

I will be back again to help out, any way I can.

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