Monday, December 8, 2014

Average Joes: FLL Lego Robotics Tournament Champions

Our son Grant has the mind of an engineer.  He always has.  (He also has a distinct sense of fashion and style that I love).
photo credits to Jared Whitney.

One of Grant's first words was "Why?"  He wanted to how thing worked and why they were relative.  He would grill me until I either said, "I don't know," gave him enough information to satisfy him, or gave him a sucker to get him to be quiet.  Not joking.  I carried lollypops in the car to pacify him when I couldn't take another question.

When he was 18 months old I said, "Look Grant.  There's a flatbed hauling a bulldozer."  He sighed and did the baby equivalent of rolling his eyes and said, "No it's not Mommy.  That's a front end loader." He was right.  And.... here's your lollypop.

Grant moved from construction equipment to Legos.  We'd spend $80 on a giant Lego set and Grant would have it put together by the end of Christmas day - without any help from us.  He could have at least acted like he needed help, except he knew I would be worthless.

My brain does not function like Grant's.  Legos and the instructions that come with them are like a foreign language to me.  It makes Grant's mad skills in this area even more mind blowing to me.

When he started middle school, Grant joined Mountain View Middle School's FLL Lego Robotics team. According to the FLL website, students who participate in Lego Robotics get to:

  • "design, build, test and program robots using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology
  • Apply real-world math and science concepts
  • Research challenges facing today's scientists
  • Learn critical thinking, team-building and presentation skills
  • Participate in tournaments and celebrations."

It's pretty impressive what these kids come up with.

This year is Grant's last year in middle school.  He brought the Lego Robotics permission slip home, I shuffled things around to make sure he had a ride home after Robotics practice twice a week, and he became a member of the Average Joes robotics team.  As the regional tournament got closer, Grant and his team gave up hours of after-school time to work on their programming, test their robot, and fine tune their project.  They must have spent ten hours of after-school time working on it last week alone.

Yesterday was the regional tournament.  Twenty teams converged on the Evergreen Space and Aviation Museum for the FLL Lego Robotics tournament.
Of course I forgot my real camera so these are all off my iPhone
"Thematic playing surfaces" were set up for the teams to square off against each other in three timed competitions lasting a mere two minutes and thirty seconds.  In that time frame each team tried to wrack up the most points by telling their robot to complete various tasks on the playing board. When I asked Grant how the robot knew what to do he said, "We program it."

Teams must use strategy when deciding what tasks to tell the robot to perform.  Difficult tasks are higher point values, but point deductions also occur if the robot doesn't do what you want it to do.  It's all quite complicated, but these kids understand it and totally get into it.  And they are good at it!  Really good.
Just after one of the robot competitions.  The team stood waiting for their points earned to be calculated.
The other big piece of the competition is the team project.  This year the question teams had to address was "What is the Future of Learning?"  Teams had to choose a topic within this parameter, "create an innovate solution that improves the learning experience, and share the solution with others."  
Team Shot around their project
The Average Joes did great on the floor with their robot.  Then KILLED their presentation!  A judge explained the rules to all the parents before the kids went into the judging room.  The Average Joes had five minutes only to present their project and answer questions from the judges.  Their time started the second the judge opened the door so all spectators needed to get seated ASAP and be quiet.

We all proudly watched our kids nail their presentation.  They were articulate, spoke loudly enough that we could hear them, and even incorporated humor.  It was obvious they had done their research.  Part of their solution was a free website and app and they had created a prototype of both to show the judges!  We were impressed.

Finally it came time to announce the winners.  The MC took his time announcing specific awards (rookie of the year, best presentation, most points, etc.) first.  Our group of parents was convinced the kids would win for Best Presentation and were shocked when another team won instead.  Had our bias overshadowed our judgement?  (What we didn't know was that a team can't win more than one award, so if they placed in the top five overall teams, they disqualified themselves from the category specific awards).

After the specific awards were finished, the MC moved on to announce the top five teams.  Each of the top five teams earned a bid into the state championship tournament.  We waited nervously as he announced the fifth place, the fourth place, and finally the third place team.  The Average Joes were not called.

The MC took a break and made a big speech about what a huge honor it was to place in the top two then read off the criteria teams had to meet to earn this spot.  The second place position did not go to the Average Joes. Parents started looking really shell-shocked. We questioned out loud how we could have all overestimated our kids.  Only one parent held fast in thinking the kids had pulled off a victory.

I held my breath as the MC said, "And the winner of today's tournament is team number 1912 - the Average Joes from Mountain View Middle School."  Our herd of parents erupted in loud cheers and hoops and hollers.  I unsuccessfully fought back proud tears as we watched our stunned kids let the reality sink in.  They won!  What a huge honor.


The Average Joes celebrated well. Their smiles were HUGE.  The relief obvious, and yet they weren't overzealous in their celebration until they got out of sight of the other teams.  Such good sportsmanship.  All that hard work resulted in a sweet trophy and a first for Mountain View Middle School.  No team from Mountain View has ever won first place before.  I know this because the school district sent out a special news bulletin today.  WHOOT WHOOT!

I texted Curt to tell him the good news.  Paige (our 8 year old daughter) responded with, "Well I guess the Average Joes aren't so average anymore."  I agree.
Grant - our "not so average joe" kissing the trophy
Great job Average Joes.  We can't wait to cheer you on at the state championship.

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