Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Geek Invasion (a.k.a. FLL for my LLF)

I've been researching. I know, I'm always researching something, always on some kind of mission. Ever since the first time we witnessed the FIRST World Competition a couple years ago, I've had the idea brewing. I had FIRST Lego League (FLL) mostly in mind for my LLF (Little Lego Freak), but after this past weekend, it became clear to me that this is an adventure for all my children.

In actuality, we as a family did not get to see all that much going on when we went downtown to the Georgia Dome for the competition on Friday. Mark was able to get passes for me and for him because his company is a FIRST sponsor; however, two passes weren't enough to get all 6 of us in, so we just wandered a bit and checked out some of the FLL presentations.

It was the evening event that made an impact on me. Because of Mark's company's sponsorship and interest in FIRST, his boss was down here acting as one of the judges, and Mark and I were invited to an adult-only dinner honoring the sponsors. I had no idea FIRST was such an elite organization, but I found myself seated in a room with the CEOs of all of the top tech companies in the nation. The dinner was held at the Georgia Aquarium in a big banquet hall, and I completely enjoyed my grown-up evening out.

There were a couple of speakers who shared their inspirational FIRST testimonies. One gentleman shared how he began a FIRST team with inner city kids in Rhode Island, consequently forcing some of his team members to leave their gangs to be a part of the team. He shared how 100% of his team members came from broken families with parents who never went to college, yet 50% of those team members went on to college. Another guy explained how he had no interest whatsoever in science and technology but was practically forced to join a FIRST team. Now he works for NASA.

Then there was the speech from the founder: Dean Kamen, the inventor. He invented the Segway as well as a particular kind of dialysis machine. Mark reminded me that he is, first and foremost, an engineer, not a public speaker. That reminder came in defense of my comment about what a terrible speech he gave both in delivery and content. At some point in his speech, he drew sort of a bell curve in the air and then explained that there are average--lots of average--people in this world (he motioned toward the thick, top part of the bell)--average, you know, like we who majored in things like English and history--but on the thin end of the curve lie all of the extraordinary people like the scientists, computer programmers, and engineers. OK, so he didn't specifically define average as those who majored in the arts. But I caught his drift. Even though I am just average.

Despite Kamen's mediocre speech, it was an inspiring evening, and I also had the opportunity to talk with people who have been doing this for years, and I was able to have some of my FIRST questions answered. Which gave me a little confidence that I could start my own team. But just a little. And that's when the research began. I am almost finished with my copy of First Lego League: The Unofficial Guide, a book I drove 1 1/2 hours to get because that bookstore was the only one with a copy, and I didn't want to wait for Amazon. And I'm in the midst of reading all of the files on the FIRST website I can get my hands on, plus asking lots of questions of the patient people on the Georgia FLL Yahoo group. I should be a pro at this very soon.

I have begun rounding up team members and have 2 outside of my family already confirmed. The huge confidence builder I've found was in an FAQ section somewhere. The question (according to the Kathleen Translation): Do I have to know anything about science stuff to coach a team? The answer? Nope! The main thing a coach should possess are good organizational and communication skills. You might be wondering about my communication skills the way I'm rambling on and on, but I can pull them out when they're needed!

Anyway, I'm excited and still a bit a lot intimidated by this whole thing, but I know experience will be my best teacher, so I'm ready to jump in. Oh, and that dinner at the aquarium? They opened the banquet hall doors after the program was over and gave us permission to wander. (Shhh! Don't tell the kids!)

One of the Aquarium's famous whale sharks.

This big guy is usually crammed in some crevice, sound asleep when we visit him during the day.
One would expect to be disappointed not to find these guys at their normal, daytime mischievous play, but have you ever seen anything snugglier and cuter?


tsinclair said...

A grown-up dinner party. Wow, I am not certain that I would know how to act at one of those.

My interest is really peaked after reading this. Thanks for taking the plunge with it. :-)

Amy said...

So, are you starting a team? I'd love the details...

dclouser said...

This sounds intriguing. What all will you do? Loved your photos!

CrossView said...

You Go, Mom! I guess it's a matter of: If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em? LOL!

Still chuckling at: "But I caught his drift. Even though I am just average."

The behind the scenes look would fascinate me. I'd soooo rub it in to my kids. =P

Cynthia@RunningWithLetters said...

I dunno, Kathleen, Amazon has been so super speedy lately that I think they could actually give me a run for my money against a 3 hr. round trip to a bookstore...

And good for you, an average arts major, for making a foray into the sciences. Way to break out of your place on the bell curve!!

And I'm super-jealous of your trip to the aquarium. I LOVE aquariums.

Caseybumpinalong said...

My son was on a FLL team a couple of years ago. He learned a lot, but was disappointed he didn't get to do the robotics more (the coach just chose 2 to be the robotics specialists for the competition) - the rest just had to do the research. He chose not to rejoin the team the next year (so make sure to rotate the kids :)) Good for you, tho', for taking on such a challenge! The competition was a huge event - I was very impressed with the time the leaders put in to making it a special day for the kids. Love your aquarium pics - I'm going to head over there someday. Your otter pics are inspiring me. Too cute!