Another season of FLL in the books

It takes a village to coach a First LEGO League team.

This fall, I volunteered to help with a First LEGO League robotics team through the WACO Museum and Learning Center. It was my son and I’s fourth season.

Every year there are new challenges, new teammates and a fresh start to come up with new ideas.

Trust me, the children aren’t the only ones who learn through this program. I learned kids love Dr. Pepper, jokes about corn, talking like Pokemon characters and you can have 12 chairs in a room and somehow they’ll all sit on a table or lay on a floor.

This season, we combined part of my former team with another and transformed into the Waka Waka Wacos, named after that lovable Muppets character Fozzie the Bear. Our shirts and joke books were a hit at the tournament last week. The emcees used a lot of the team’s witty water jokes during the Hydro Dynamic LEGO board challenges. My favorite joke? What did the ice cube say to the glass of water? I was water before I got cool. (I didn’t say they were great jokes.)

This season, we had a wonderful resource, Troy High School senior Nick, who spent hours with our team to help them with robot programming and challenges throughout the season. I can’t say enough about Nick’s patience and leadership. I’m a huge fan of older students helping youth. As soon as Nick walked in the door, the kids were all ears and us parent volunteers were just the old people in the corner. Nick had been in FLL and then FTC and other robotics groups through school. He chose to come back to the museum to help our team.

Folks, we have some great students in our local schools and Nick is just one of them. What other high school kid would spend their Friday night helping a bunch of junior high kids pull their program together at the ninth hour?

Thank you Nick!

Our kids also toured the Troy Water Treatment Plant with help from plant superintendent Jeff Monce. I was surprised how much the kids enjoyed it and they asked great questions. It was another highlight of the season.

Another highlight of our season with our eight, yes I said eight, team members was something the judges or parents didn’t get to see throughout the season.

One component of the First LEGO League program is call Core Values. It combines “Minute to Win It” challenges and teamwork. Judges watch the team in action and how they react and then interact with one another in a surprise challenge which isn’t unveiled until the day of the competition.

As coaches, we came up with some fun, easy challenges to get the season started. Yet, we turned to the kids to come up with their own ideas to share with their team.

It was a huge hit with our kids. They loved sharing their challenge at the sessions and couldn’t wait for their turn to share it with their teammates.

Another highlight was Fiona and Allison’s contribution. They wrote a song, to the tune of Moana’s “You’re Welcome,” to help sell their project idea to judges. Seeing the five guys on the team sing and sway in their Hawaiian leis was great.

Another highlight was watching these kids do all the work on their own. Trust me, there were times when you really wanted to jump in and do the work for them. Yet, we practiced great restraint and guided them to figure out their issues on their own. And what’s sad, I saw many teams at our tournament that clearly had work done for them. Remember back in high school how you could tell which one of your classmate’s had their mom do their homework or projects for them? It’s kind of like that. Yet, we could hold our heads up high knowing our team was 100 percent their own and student-led.

As coaches, we guided them to find the answers on their own and that’s the beauty of the program. All season long, we reminded the kids “It’s your work. It’s your project. It’s your team.” And we threw them in the arena.

Each team member had the opportunity to learn to program the robot, help one other determine their game strategy as well as keeping their spirits up when things didn’t quite work out as they were supposed to. And, sadly, things just didn’t work out the day it counted the most this year. That’s how life goes sometimes.

Our competition was held at the University of Dayton. We had some highs, and we had some lows. It’s not always easy with a group of students ranging from 9-13 years of age. Yet, I was impressed by each and every one of them. All in all, I saw each one of our Waka Waka Wacos smile, laugh and have a good time at some point in the long competition day.

The Waco Learning Center was given a $1 million gift from the Pat and Thom Robinson Foundation to build a new Learning Center to hold programs such as FLL and FTC programs. I know it’ll be a great investment in our community’s future. To witness youth get excited about programming, robotics and working together is truly a gift and I hope it inspires students, young and old, to pursue career avenues they never considered before. We are so lucky to have this new center being built in our community. I know it will hold a world of opportunity for years to come.

“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. She firmly believes theirs a special place in heaven for all junior high school teachers.

“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. She firmly believes theirs a special place in heaven for all junior high school teachers.