I volunteered yesterday to assist judging the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League’s Oklahoma City regional competition. I took on the Core Values judging of ten of the twenty-two teams. The task involved putting blindfolds on the group throwing a twenty-foot rope on the floor with the instruction to place the rope in the shape of a square within five minutes.
Like most of these competitions, the prize wasn’t completing the shape. Each team was charged with exhibiting basic teamwork skills like inclusion, effective leadership, following directions and having respect for everyone. The judges then scored each team by observing them work together (or not). As you can probably imagine there were some really strong contenders and then there were the really weak ones.
The most interesting contrast involved two family teams. One team of ten children ranged in age from six to thirteen, a mix of girls and boys. The other team of five children also ranged in age from six to thirteen, and had two girls, three boys.
I would have bet a paycheck that the group of ten blindfolded and working to move that rope, would spend more time arguing than getting the rope together. Immediately the oldest, a boy, took charge and recognized the best way to communicate was for the children to listen to his voice. There were a lot of them, but every one of them youngest to oldest was included, ideas from any of the children were accepted. After finishing the task and removing their blindfolds to reveal the rope was more linear than square, no one was blamed and they all took responsibility for not completing the task.
The team of five was a different story. A girl was the oldest, followed by a boy, a girl and then two very young twin boys. As they started the task the older boy and younger girl took off on the effort. As they fussed about the best way to make the square, the twins sat in awe of their blindfold. The older girl made a suggestion for four of them to make a corner and the fifth to check the shape. It fell on deaf ears. She did state it quietly, and I heard her, but the other two in charge took it upon themselves to get the job done. When time expired, this team had made a pretty good-looking square out of that rope.
My fellow judge and I scored the team of ten with high marks. The other team, actually the older boy and his younger sister, didn’t fare as well. Our results were confirmed when the judges were encouraged to roam around later in the day to observe the teams as competitors in the robot challenge.
Using Lego’s for its ‘arms’, each team programmed their robot to complete several tasks. Only two of the team members are allowed to work the robot through this phase. Points are awarded for each task successfully completed and the top three teams are awarded with a pass to the next round of competition.
The heat of competition either brings out the best in a person or the worst.
The team of ten cheered loudly for their two teammates who struggled with their robot. Parents stood alongside the children and cheered just as loud. The robot did a satisfactory job, but they were well down in the rankings. I stopped one of the kids to ask how they did and he was dejected, but when I next saw him at another round for the robot competition, there he was, cheering and excited to be part of his team.
The family of five fared much better in the competition. The programming was spot on as the robot took to its tasks. I didn’t see the twins rooting for their brother and younger sister. I did see the older daughter with her mother on the sidelines. The daughter yelled out something to her siblings only to incur her mother’s wrath. Mom got in her face and I’m sure was telling her to not bother the kids. The daughter started again to help them out with verbal instructions and Momma Bear came down on her again.
I felt awful for that girl. Not a part of the team again. It became clear that the competition was for the middle children’s benefit. During another round later in the day, she and her sister operated the robot. Nothing seemed to be going right. She looked to Momma Bear for inspiration. Momma looked like she was resigned that this round was a waste of time. They tied for third.
I’m reminded of my mother trying to convince me early on that winning Miss Congeniality instead of Miss America was the real prize of the pageant. I never understood why she felt that way until I grew older. Miss Congeniality is voted the title by her pageant peers, the other women who see her as an inspiration to be followed. She is a woman who doesn’t undercut her competitors to win the title, who respects everyone and what they have all attained. She’s what we now call a team player.
The family of ten won the Teamwork award. The other family won an award for robot design. They both move on to the next level of competition to be held in a few months. Which team’s children are most likely to succeed in the real world? I’m betting a paycheck again.