edamomie

An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

These Girls Will Rock You February 12, 2014

A: Activities

We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You

Sport for the mind. This is exactly what the First Lego League (FLL) delivers on through an international robotics program that includes more than 200,000 kids in 63 countries. In Minnesota, High Tech Kids, a Minnesota organization dedicated to delivering fun, hands-on science, engineering and technology programs and events that inspire kids in their formative years, runs the FLL program locally as MN FLL. During the 2013-14 season 562 teams (comprised of 4-9 graders) competed in MN FLL, culminating on February 8 at Washington Magnet School in St. Paul where 66 of these teams had the opportunity to compete at the state championship in high-pressure, spirited competition.

 

The lego, math, engineering and science culture is alive and growing. And now girls are participating more in science and math oriented programs too. At two recent MN FLL competitions, it was impressive to see the number of kids involved and the hours of effort into this program by volunteers, coaches, teachers and participants alike. It was not by my doing that my 10 year-old daughter, Ava, became involved in GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science), a free program for students offered at her school. She was the instigator. After coming home totally jazzed about GEMS on day two of fifth grade, we agreed to let that be her new “sport” for the year.

 

Birdseye View of Board

Birdseye View of Board

I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. She struggled with math in third grade. Then something clicked in fourth grade. I attribute that to the fourth-grade teachers’ response to newfound research citing the importance of word problems in math and proactively implementing new daily word problems into the math curriculum at Hale school. It provided a great foundation for the real-world scenarios and problems they would solve through participation in programs like MN FLL.

 

The GEMS program at Field Middle School is run by their science teacher, Mary Hill, who has 30 years in the program and received the highest honor from MN FLL – Coach of the Year.  Some schools’ science programs are run by volunteers and the level of involvement varies. Field GEMS meet for two hours every week throughout the course of the school year. Parents from other schools cited a schedule of once or twice a month over a more limited time during the school year.

 

Ava participated in the Hale Science Fair before (grades 2-4), which was individual and project based for one event. This program differed in its team structure (six girls) and problem to solve (each team solved for the same set of challenges). In GEMS, the teams consist of 5, 6 and 7th grade girls so there’s an element of teaching within the team itself. And because the playing field is level, every team can learn from other teams’ solutions.

 

High stress 2.5 Minute Challenge

High stress 2.5 Minute Challenge

It took me awhile to fully understand the structure of GEMS and their primary focus — preparing for the annual MN FLL competition. Information was not forthcoming from my daughter. My first immersion was the January 18th MN FLL round one competition. It ran from 7:30a.m. until 6:00p.m. I asked a ton of questions and finally formed an understanding of the program. In a nutshell, there is a robotic portion similar for all teams and an in-depth research project on a natural disaster and solutions that are each team’s own choice.

 

Robotic
The challenge is set up so that each team has the same size 93″ x 45″ board with a 3.5″ high border and graphic overlay that represents the year’s theme of choice: Nature’s Fury. (see the full challenge details here). The context of programming the robots made of Legos involves solving real world challenges in a natural disaster, in this year’s case, a tsunami. The board involves simulated runways, roadways, roadblocks, buildings and people and animals. The task at hand is to program your robot, always released from the same corner starting point, to solve a series of challenges. Robotic arms trigger the launch of a cargo plane, a sweeping save of animals in a tree, the lifting of a house from the flood area, and the release of goods into areas where people need immediate aid.

 

 

Research
Teams could choose their own natural disaster to investigate, considering the effects of the natural disaster on individuals and property. They were required to focus their research by identifying a challenge caused by the storm and create an innovative solution that could prevent or solve that problem. Ava’s team, We Will Rock You, chose landslides and how in the event of a landslide people could be notified, be prepared with a survival backpack and continually directed to safety via GPS throughout the course of the landslide.

 

The research component included online research which for Ava’s team meant viewing websites like redcross.com and survivalkitsonline.com for the survival backpack, interviews with local experts working in the field and dealing daily with public safety and survival during natural disasters, and research of GPS technology. The We Will Rock You team selected landslides because even though they’re most common in California and Colorado, they can happen in any state as in the case of last year’s landslide tragedy in Minnesota.

 

Lego Robotics

Lego Robotics

Competition
Seventy three teams competed in the day-long MN FLL regional competition at Anishinabe Academy on January 18 and three finalists advanced to the February 8 state tournament including Ava’s team which also won a design award (see the results here). Several similar competitions took place all around the state from late 2013 through early 2014 to narrow in to the 66 teams that would compete at state.

 

The day consisted of robotic challenges in 2:30 minute timeframes, eight teams per time. The room filled with nervous energy as two from each team went forward each time to live program and active the sequences of the challenge. The research portions were limited to five minutes where teams presented their projects, answered questions from the judges about the project and CORE values. These values enforce friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals and that helping each other is the foundation of teamwork.

 

Outcome
She still seems jazzed about the program. And next year, she’ll have some younger teammates to mentor. I believe this is such an important program that sets girls up for success in science and math related fields. It’s not too young, in fact middle school is a critical time to foster this growth. We can all take cues from young people who serve as great role models — like the 10 year-old eco-blogger Hannah Alper (check out her Dec 5, 2013 TED Talk). I am so excited that Ava discovered this extra-curricular activity and sport for the mind that will fuel her passions about her ideas to change the world for the better. Rock on girls!

 

Life with a Lego Lover November 28, 2011

Filed under: Activities — edamomie @ 9:05 pm
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A: Activities

Lego Separation Process

Lego Separation Process

It’s not that I need more kid-friendly project ideas from magazines, web sites and blogs, I just need a filter for them. Thanks to Nana, who applies an eagle eye and information sorting ability, the best ideas percolate to the top.  The filter measures:  1. Will it make life or daily tasks more functional, manageable or organized?  2. Does it provide for learning or offer pure enjoyment?  3. Is it affordable?  4.  Can it be done in an afternoon or reasonable amount of time?

 

When Nana came for a visit recently with a page ripped right from the latest issue of Disney’s Family Fun magazine, I knew she meant business. It started with a pitch to my 6-yr-old son, Calvin, about the idea. Would he like to create a table that housed his thousands of Lego parts by color, topped off by large working board for building and displaying his Lego creations? Silly Nana, of course, Yes! I seconded the motion that landed all of the lego parts in a huge pile in the middle of the floor for sorting. Super-time consuming Step 1 took 3-5 sorters working for 2-3 hours each. Luckily we also had the help of the Lego separator tool – saves on the teeth.

 

The Color-coding of Legos

The Color-coding of Legos

This was more involved than one afternoon. With sorting complete from the day prior, we were ready to shop for the clear drawer carts.  We started at The Container Store which proved pricey (about 4 times the price of the product we eventually ended up with) and not quite the right size, yet full of pre-packaged Lego-branded solutions and containers. The yellow Lego head jars were $20.  Cute, but only plastic. We also checked out Bed, Bath and Beyond with no luck.  Surprisingly, we walked into our next prospect, Home Depot, went directly to the storage aisle and found 2 four-drawer carts with casters that were the near-perfect size at a very right price ($17 each).

 

Dare we venture into the electrical aisle to find electrical tape? Yes, there it was. We picked up a 5 pack of white, blue, green, red and yellow (on the narrow side) and a wider roll of orange ($8 total). We bypassed the black and brown options. The tape was for labeling the legos by drawer. A step not to be skipped.

 

A few other errands sprinkled into the search made for a 3-hour outing and as expected, Calvin was eagerly anticipating our return and those perfect drawers for his Legos. We got started immediately, selecting from the 4 large and 4 small drawers for colors. Black and grey were together- – so many of these (due to StarWars Lego sets) that they warranted a large drawer. White, red and the accessories (wheels, etc) took up the remaining 3 large; while brown/tan/orange, yellow, blue and green filled the four small drawers. We also bought four small tray dividers at Target to place in the drawers ($14 total) for the ultra small pieces.

 

Putting Legos in Their Place

Putting Legos in Their Place

Calvin put all of the eletrical tape on – it was very forgiving and we lifted it up a few times to get the lines as straight as possible. The next step will be to take the 3 gray flat lego boards (purchased at Lego MOA the day prior at $14 each) and attach them via bluedot to a white melemime board (in the meantime a makeshift foam core board is standing in). The board (most likely a trip to Home Depot for Papa this week) will be reversable with a non-stick skid-proof paper attached to drawer cart tops to hold it all safely in place. 

 

To replicate the chair in the magazine photo, a mod-looking one with silver legs and a bright-orange seat, we’ll be making a trip to IKEA with high hopes. The only remaining add I can think of not covered in the Family Fun feature is a place/stand to hold the instructions for the current project being work on. After all, we went to great lengths to archive the box covers and instructions in two 3-inch binders

 

Are we finally organized Lego-wise? $98 dollars later (plus $12 for a board and $20 for the chair we have yet to add), I’d say it was worth the effort. Anything to keep the Legos contained and out of my vacuum cleaner.

 

 
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