Big Ideas


A few weeks ago I once again jumped into the deep end.
I signed on as a volunteer for a regional FLL competition. My assignment: Project Judge!

After donning my volunteer T-shirt I met up with the other judges to receive my instructions. A room full of enthusiastic volunteers, mostly engineers, all willing to give up their weekend in support of science, technology, engineering and math learning for kids. Oh, and fun with Legos of course. FLL and jrFLL use the Lego Mindstorm robotics.

I teamed up with two other judges and we went into the assigned classroom (my offspring’s high school hosted the competition and the robotics team kids volunteered set up, running, and clean up) to rearrange the desks the way we thought best. Then we tested our seats, decided we needed coffee and water, as well as pens, to look professional. We studied our rubric sheets and decided who would write what portion.

Each team would have 5 minutes to present followed by 5 minutes of Q&A. After they’d left, we, the judges, would have 5 minutes to score the rubric for that team. No time for goofing off or deep discussion, we were on a tight schedule. There were 40 teams competing each day that weekend.

A quick overview: in FLL the teams are given a challenge for the Mindstorm robot they build and that one will be judged on how well it does in competition. It will also be judged on mechanical and programing aspects in a separate judging. Then there is the challenge of creating a presentation that solves a problem in relation to this year’s challenge, which was Nature’s Fury.

As project judges we got to see these presentations. A few teams had barely prepared, some presented their solution as an acted-out skit, and others still, were very prepared and showed us prototypes of their solution to a problem that might arise during or after a natural disaster.

After the third team left the room I felt much more comfortable in my role as judge. I also realized something very important ... These kids almost all had phenomenal ideas. Some went so far as to price out what their solution would cost and how it could be implemented. The writer in me sat back and soaked up the imagination, letting it spark mine. Will I ever use any of the ideas I heard there? Maybe, maybe not, but the main thing is, it sent my thoughts off in different directions. It allowed me to think more creatively and consider subjects from different angles. It also made me realize how important it is that there are books out there that hold the attention of these kids as they grow up.

I’d love to share some of the ideas these kids came up with, but as they might go on to compete in the state championship I think I should keep it quiet for now.