The Optimism Rollercoaster on Competition Day

When we make State,” my son said to the Drowning Robots early on competition day, “we’re going to make a prototype.”

“Yeah!” they agreed. “When we make State!”

They are a middle school robotics team. The competition combines an environmental sustainability project with challenging robotic missions. Three presentations. Three programming sessions. Only six would qualify for State.

“And when we have a prototype, we’ll make Nationals!”

“Yeah!”

Remember, this was early.

“Where do we go if we win Nationals?”

“Disney?”

“Oh, then we’re going to World!”

The presentation of their water evaporation tower project – adapted from a strange looking orange contraption piloted in Ethiopia – to water lawns, golf courses, and recreation fields went beautifully. Their Core Values presentation went swimmingly. Their ability to discuss how they went about building their robot and designing programs impressed the judges.

These kids can talk.

And it was still early. “Nationals are in Houston or Detroit. Which one should we go to?”

But then came the robotics. Tension rising with each round. Round One had them in 22nd. Everything that had worked for weeks in practice failed them. The team buckled down. While other teams threw plastic bottles of water at each other, this team worked on their programming. “We can do this!”

But in Round Two, they dropped to 24th. After the final round, revising programs on the fly, they remained near the bottom of the pack.

One of the Dads gave a beautiful pep talk to unhearing, sad faces about their work ethic, team spirit and grit.

They begged to leave before the award ceremony. “We’re just making excuses,” my son whispered to me.

“Even those toddlers throwing water at each other can program better than us,” moaned one of the girls.

But more than an hour later, they heard, “The Core Values Award goes to the Drowning Robots!”

And… they are going to State. Their presentations were so good that talking catapulted them over 16 teams who beat them at robotics.

And the very first thing my son said?

“We’re building a prototype, and we’re winning the Project at State.”

Advertisements

My Mom and the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement brings together technology fans and traditional artisans in a shared do-it-yourself, crafting culture that celebrates innovation. Schools across the country are investing in Maker Spaces, where students can invent or build with a diverse range of recycled products, traditional tools, and technology.

It’s new. It’s hip. It’s the best thing going on in education.

And my mom did it in her kindergarten class more than thirty years ago. She called it the Invention Center.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were always paper grocery bags in our kitchen at some stage of being filled with empty paper towel rolls, plastic tops, cans, bubble wrap, milk cartons, and more. We’d help her deliver them to her Invention Center and check out all the kindergarten “inventions” being built there. Occasionally, she’d send a letter home to her class asking for Invention Center donations, and the coffers would fill to overflowing, because 20 families across the DC metro area spent their kindergarten year collecting for it too.

The best though was watching those little kids walk down the carpool line barely able to carry structures bigger than they were to moms whose mouths were open in surprise. “Wow! That’s amazing!”

And the kindergarten “makers” beamed with pride as mom tried to fit it in the back of the car and they explained all the intricacies of what they’d created, how many times it had fallen apart, how they fixed it, and where they wanted to put it in their house.

I don’t know if my mom has heard of the Maker Movement, but I like to think of her as one of its pioneers.

 

What is Old is New Again

Remember those old photos of families sitting around a radio listening to world news? Boys, now grandfathers and great grandfathers, waiting to hear the score of the Yankees game or the next episode of Gunsmoke, imagining the scenes in their heads?

Technology has brought us so far!

Or has it?

Today, I walked past my sons huddled around the laptop on my desk watching the numbers change in the Falcons-Texans game, because it’s not being televised.

“It’s a touchdown!” Cheering erupted when the Falcons’ 7 changed to 13.

…Not even a sound from the screen.