Monday, December 9, 2013

Robotics for Newbies

This year, I mentored my elementary school's first ever competition robotics team to a robotics competition that we attended just two days ago.

From the beginning, our team was different. We did not cut any members. We kept all 30 students who attended practice every week, eager to learn. We also did not meet multiple times a week. We met once a week to ensure that students could still be involved in other activities, not limiting them to just one. Our team was also made up of 60% girls. And, we were all newbies. As the coach, I had never attended a robotics training, and especially never attended a competition. It was a brand new experience for me. And, as students, they were largely 3rd and 4th grade students, students who only recently learned to log in to the computer. So, to say our experience at the robotics competition was an eye-opener is an understatement. However, it did something for my students - it opened them up to a world where math and science were cool. Every one of my students - despite not winning any physical awards is ready to try it again next year - either at our elementary or at the middle school. They have ideas for how we can improve. They grew as a team. Students who had been relatively quiet stepped up and helped lead our team. Our students represented hard work, determination, and gracious professionalism.

And, though, they did not win any awards, I will continue to strive to motivate them. In some ways, it was disheartening to see the same veteran teams winning award after award while my team looked back at me with hopeful eyes, desperately wanting to take home one of the prizes. I wanted to let them know that those teams fit the stereotypical robotics image. Ours was no where near the typical team. And, our mission was never to win.

From the beginning, I kept the motto that we don't cut members and we allow all members a chance to try out all aspects of robotics. By keeping all members, it made it much more difficult to effectively compete, but, I think, it held true to what robotics should be - about getting our students excited and hooked in STEAM.

Next year, we will no longer be the newbies. However, we will continue to keep all members and we will continue to give all members a chance to lead because those are the values we deem important. Though, I wish I could have given my hopeful students a physical award, I hope they know and understand that the award is only physical evidence of something they all know. And, when they win next year, it will be that much more special.

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