An authentic learning experience

With teams beginning to head off to their first level of competition for FLL WORLD CLASS(SM), we’d like to share some words of encouragement from an experienced Coach from Cincinnati, Ohio. Coach Klima is the  gifted specialist at Blue Ash Elementary School in suburban Cincinnati.   She became interested in FIRST® LEGO® League with the emphasis on real-life problem solving.  For 10 years, she has coached FIRST LEGO League teams open to all fourth-graders from her school. As her teams get ready for their events, she shared these words to remind them what FLL is all about:

Hi.

I’m glad to see that you’ve joined up with the world of FIRST LEGO League. You’ve seen the videos on line, showing little robots zipping around the table, lifting loops and opening doors, and talking about how the research Project is leading to real life discoveries. You look at your team and know they’ll never be there in time for a tournament … or ever.

Believe me, I’m right there with you. Although I’ve been coaching teams for many many years, every year my team members are all beginners. They are fourth-graders, probably the youngest teams around. They barely know research beyond Google and I have to define innovative for them. They could spend three meetings arguing about the color of their team shirts and, no matter what team-building strategies we use, they still think it’s the one who yells the loudest that wins. The robot has been built and rebuilt by each person who is positive they have the best plan, which means every person on the team. It still wobbles and can’t move in a straight line. As I write this, we still don’t have a single mission that it performs reliably.

Yet, we are going to the tournament. Why? Because, just like FIRST LEGO League and FIRST tell you, this is a journey. My kids are learning and the tournament is their goal. They won’t be a slick as a team of eighth-graders that have done this for four years, and we’re not trying to be. They may only go to the robot runs with only a few missions accomplished, but they will do those with pride and excitement. They will learn something about learning, science, and cooperation every step of the way. It just may be a bumpy path.

Going to the tournament will cause them to get ready. While they may be a bit scattered now, see the fire that gets under their feet as the deadline approaches. They may have scripts in their hands (because they were still writing their presentation the days before) but they will stand in front of the judges with it and somebody, somehow will answer the judges’ questions. The kids will talk to the judges about their robot building, and yes, their story will have a lot of “…and that didn’t work, so we tried something else,” but it will be their story. The judges will smile encouragingly and tell them they did great. And they will run their robot in front of a crowd that is cheering and clapping.

That last week before the tournament is rough. You are stressed, the kids are stressed, you’re pushing the kids to do their best, while inside, you doubt the quality of any of it. But then THE DAY arrives. On the Friday morning, the kids tell you that they’re so excited they couldn’t sleep. They remind everyone, their classmates, the principal, and the custodian, that this is THE DAY and they eagerly take the good luck wishes. As they come in to the tournament , they’re (figuratively and literally) dancing. And then they do their stuff. If you’re looking cynically (or exhaustedly), you think that it wasn’t what they could have achieved if they had just had two more weeks, two more months, or two more years. But … their excitement is contagious and you see that you given them something very valuable – an authentic learning experience. They have learned to research a topic, to ask questions to gain information, and how learning includes more than worksheets. They have learned how to think on their feet and work with others. They have learned to problem solve and persevere as they try solution after solution, adjusting one rotation at a time. Of course it’s not perfect, but learning never is. And it’s real and genuine – not a multiple-choice standardized test in sight.

So I encourage you to take your team to a tournament. It’s an experience like no other. Everyone is excited and positive and glad to be there. All the stress fades away because you see how excited and proud your team is to be a part of it and show what they have accomplished. They are on pins and needles at the awards ceremony , sure that they have a chance. And that tells you that they gave it their all and did the best they could. They have given themselves a goal and have seen it through. They learned a lot and had a great time. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

I hope to see you there.

Sincerely,
FIRST LEGO LEAGUE LORI

Coach Klima says, “While I don’t have a huge collection of trophies, I do have a lot of students excited about robotics.”

What advice would you give to first-year teams on the eve of their first events?

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Categorised in: 2014 FLL WORLD CLASS, Coach Stories

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