It is competition season over at my house. The magnificent Wayne is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) coordinator at a local non-profit afterschool program called New Heights. I have always been kinda jealous of his job. He gets to hang out with super awesome kids. He encourages their creativity. He plays with robots. These are all cool things. Although to give me a little credit, being a cartoonist is a pretty sweet job too.
Wayne coaches FIRST Robotics teams and Destination Imagination teams from September all the way through April, and this turns me into a soccer mom … only minus the soccer. (A robo-mom? That’s not a thing. It sounds weird. Should it be a thing? Let’s make it a thing. It’s a thing now. Things are cool.)
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an amazing organization that aims to change our culture into a society that celebrates science and technology and serves to inspire our future leaders. Mentors foster a sense of belonging, self-confidence, leadership skills, healthy communication skills, and knowledge that can be applied to all facets of their lives. Through the magic of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition®, youth compete fiercely while remaining kind and respectful. They embrace cooperation despite the fact that they are simultaneously competing against one another.
Last weekend we went to the Destination Imagination Regional Tournament. Destination Imagination is an organization that wants to help grow student’s creativity, courage, and curiosity by using open-ended academic challenges in service learning, fine arts, and STEM to teach creative and collaborative problem solving, patience, flexibility, respect for others and their unique ideas, and ethics. A team solves their STEAM based challenge all on their own. Through these challenges, they learn creative process skills that foster innovation, which will ultimately impact all they accomplish in their lives.
Destination Imagination is a long but inspiring day. A whole entourage of parents, myself, the tiny Alice-aurus, Wayne, and Coaches Laura and Sally cheered on all of the students. The middle school team presented their solution to the Maze Craze Technical Challenge, and the high school team performed a beautiful musical skit for the Change of Tune Fine Arts Challenge. The middle school team had me chuckling at my seat and I was very impressed with their solution ideas. The high school team managed to create a skit with enjoyable and relatable characters. I was blown away by their musical skills.
Go to any FIRST Robotics competition and you will actively see team members make friends with their rivals. Witness and be amazed as teams volunteer to help other teams having a rough time. Stand in awe as youth exchange knowledge with one another openly and freely out in the hallways between matches. Guess where else I saw this behavior? You’re correct, it WAS at the Destination Imagination Tournament! These kids want to win, but they won’t let that desire dig in at the expense of others. There were kids of all ages being helpful, acting as cheerleaders, making friends, trading strategies and insights, sharing cake and snacks, and overall modeling empathy and compassion for their fellow competitors.
A great example came from two weekend’s ago at the FIRST Robotics Competition Game – FIRST®POWER UP. The FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) team that Wayne coaches is a high school level team. They built a five-foot-tall robot weighing in at around 200 pounds in only six weeks. During the initial match, our robot, FRC Team 5902 – The Wire Clippers, unexpectedly did not move at all. It just sat there. The kids tried desperately to get it to do something before the end of the round, but nothing happened. Robots break all the time and it can be soul crushing to watch it happen in the middle of a match. A neighbor team, FRC Team 95 – The Grasshoppers, jumped right in after the match to help our kids go through the code, line by line, to find the error. That’s heartwarming and amazing to know that all around are people eager to help and ensure that everyone has a good time.
The joke at FIRST®POWER UP, directed at Alice, was, “When are they going to let you drive?” At Destination Imagination, all the judges commented on how we had a “DI-er in training.” She’ll get an opportunity to participate in FIRST Robotics once she’s six and can join the FIRST LEGO League Jr. team. For Destination Imagination, she can join a Rising Stars team as early as preschool. We still have a couple long weekends of battling robots and performing skits. The high school team will be singing their way to states coming up. It’s exciting, exhausting, and I’ll happily be the robo-mom that I was destined to become. Robo-mom … robo-DI-mom … robdi-mom … eh, I’ll work on it.
To learn more about FIRST, to find a team in your area, or to start a team, go to firstinspires.org
To learn about Destination Imagination, go to destinationimagination.org
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