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2009 Lego league

Snow, Lego League and Moms

December 11th, 2009 Report

So on comes mother nature with all the force of a freight train and I get a day off and right now it feels like I'll never be warm again. Yes folks it is the dead of winter. Ever noticed that we always reference death with winter. Sure there is the natural connection with the season. Everything turns grey and the vegetation dies off or goes to sleep. The days shorten and without the modern conveniences, your average human would die. So it rolls together and the thing is that it establishes this feeling of hope and renewal. Of course, that renewal is in fact, 4 months away.


The thing about snow is that it is so beautiful and flowing with no sharp angles or edges. It is the one part of urban nature that we haven't found a way to cultivate into our own sense of beauty and decor. It claims everything and makes it clear that it is in control. Sure we plow, shovel and sand. Reshaping and deplacing it but the fact is that it is still in control. It will only take a strong wind or another shower of snow to complete reshape the environment. There is a beauty in that that can't be explained without experiencing it first hand. Chaos rules it in a way that we can not dam, cut down or control.


Most of us that have dealt with it on a regular bases, have a love / hate relationship with it. It's kind of like a former lover, in the way you think of all the good times. Days off from work or school, sledding or snowmobiling and just the pure beauty of a clean fresh snow. If you haven't experienced being outside during a snow fall, then you don't understand the pure simple joy of it. The way the shines and reflexes the moonlight and the silence of it. A city that is free of traffic and people as everyone hides to wait for it to pass. There is few times when you will ever experience this outside of a snow storm. There is also the feeling of challenging the elements which is something that the modern man does his best to avoid. It is a certain empowerment of not allowing nature to change your habits and adapting and over coming the environment.


The other thing is it brings out a natural need of community that doesn't normally exist. People are more willing to help out their neighbors. This to combat a common struggle. Today I was stuck in the driveway of my apartment. If my upstairs neighbors wouldn't have happened by, my car would still be there. They had walked back from the corner store, they were cold and they didn't have to help but they did and if it was reversed I would do the same. Even though their kid wakes me up every Saturday morning at 8am with their too loud TV and him junping up and down.


In the end, snow kind of sucks 30 minutes after it stops falling. Now the future holds weeks and weeks of the stuff hanging around like the last guest at a party. It will continue to make travel difficult and the pure white will slowly become dirtier and dirtier until it is ugly black piles outlining streets and parking lots. Then in the spring it will melt in to the over soaked land, creating small pounds in yards and tasking the gutters. Oh and don't get me started on the sand.


Enough about snow. Some of you may already know that I'm a coach for my son Quinn's FIRST Lego League team, the Board Bots. Every time that I've mentioned this, I could see the confusion in the persons eyes. So here's an explanation. FLL is part of FIRST which was started Dean Kamen by the inventor of the IBOT and the Segway. The idea was to start an organized event and program to involve kids interested in Robotics. Lego got involved when they introduced the Lego Mindstorm. Which is a set that includes a brain aka computer about the size of an older iPod, a number of sensors, Lego pieces that would remind you of a cross between an erector set and a car model and software to program the thing.


Each year, FLL comes up with a topic like this year which was Smart Movies. Then the teams has about 3 months to come up with a solution that effects their shared community. This includes researching the topic and coming up with a project presentation. Also they supply a kit of a number of models and mat that goes on a 4 x 8 table for the robot game. There is a number of missions that the team complete to get points. Each team has to design and program a robot to complete these missions at a competition. They also present their project and take part in a technical discussion with judges about designing and programing their robot and a teamwork task. Throughout the focus is on Gracious Professionalism and team work. Thus teaching kids between the age of 9 and 14 professional life skills that they will use most of their life.


Cowles Montessori had two teams this year, The Renegades and Quinn's team the Board Bots. Since Cowles is a magnet school and you have students from all over the Des Moines Metro area, they choose to use the school as their community. So the teams looked at the parking and drop off situation at the school, which is a complete mess. To do their research they each took turns at the different drop off and pick up areas before and after school and tallied up how many drop offs and pick ups there were. Also those parents that were breaking the rules. Once they gathered the numbers, they grafted the information and began to come up with solutions. The solutions included expanding the parking lot, setting up a car pool insinuative program, having a turn about on one of the city streets and sharing busing with the focus program.


One of the things that FLL encourages is that the teams come up with a creative and entertaining way to present their research data and solutions for the problem. Quinn's team chose to go with reality and have a school board meeting. Members even went through the pain of watching a meeting on cable and also interviewed a Des Moines School board member and Cowley's Principal Ms Moore. Then came up with a script. They then presented it to the President of the School board, members of the Windsor Heights City council, Bob Good the person in charge of all of the DMPS Buildings or properties and the school's principal Ms. Moore. Then at the regionals they got Honorable Mention(2nd place) out of over 20 teams. Also there is a good chance that their ideas of expanding the parking lot and removing the grassy inlets may in fact happen.


The most rewarding part of the experience for me, was watching the kids come together as a team. Eight very bright kids that are used to working independently developed the ability to build on other people ideas and coming together to find solutions to problems was not easy. However it is at the very heart of what FLL is about. At first, this was a very frustrating experience and there was times when I wondered if the team would ever come together. Especially when designing the robots and building off other members programs. In part because you can't have 8 people working on the robot or programs at one time. There were a lot of false starts, with robots being partly built and then completely ripped apart when the next member worked on the robot. It took some time to get members to take their ego out of the design and have the team decide by voting on a basic designs. This was achieved through a number of Team building exercises that my fellow coach Judy and our Drake intern students came in with. I wasn't involved with a number of them cause I was helping with the robot design and programing with the teams tech consultant Kelly. Another fun part about it was watching the kids coming up with design changes to adapt to the playing field and missions. I was very proud of their design and I know if we would have had more time to prefect the design and programing they would have done a lot better in the robot games but we were working on a deadline. I'm hoping next year the kids will have more time to focus on this but they learned a lot about the mindstorm and the challenges that one faces when developing and programing a robot in the real world.


Part of the FLL experience is interaction with other teams. Each team is encouraged to come up with a uniform including wearing strange hats and having a team t-shirt. Also each team comes up with flair to trade with other teams. The Board Bots had a clip attached to a skateboard. Other teams had badges, laments, pins, pencils, candy, etc... The teams also come up with cheers and chants and cheer on other teams. It can be a loud fun filled day.


Since the teams didn't place they will not be advancing to state but next year we are starting much earlier. I hope that we have a return of a number of the kids but look forward to meeting and interacting with a number of new members next year. One thing that struck me on Saturday at the Regionals was the number of Parents and friends that were there to support the team. This is a group of parents and extended family that are very involved in their child's life. Like may explain why these kids are so bright and interesting.


The only negative thing I really have to talk about has nothing to do with FLL but my mother's health. Last Thursday night, I decided that I would go out for the first time in a few weeks and meet my friend Trisha at Cooney's for a few pints. Got home around 2:30 but didn't think much of it cause for the first time in a week, I didn't have to get up. Around 8:30am I heard TSOL playing then Scream then TSOL then Scream. It took a while for me to figure out that it wasn't the stereo in the dream I was having about being on this huge roller coaster. It was a good dream. When I figured out that it was my phone and someone kept calling one and then the other, I knew it had to be important and shock myself out of bed. It was my sister Debbie calling from work and my mother was having problems getting out of bed and sitting up. She had been really weak on Monday when I took her to the Mercy Wound Center and she had fallen the day before.


I quickly dressed and headed out to Pleasant Hill. I made one stop to get something to drink and left my Palm Pre in the car. I hadn't charged it the night before and was listening to a Podcast. Anyway mom called while I was in Cum and Go. When I didn't answer she called 911. When I got there she was having problems sitting up. When the police showed up the officer helped me get her to the bathroom and talk her into having the Ambulance come to check her out. To make a long story short, it took 3 police officers, 2 paramedics and myself to talk her into going to the hospital. At the hospital they found out that she had an UTI and was very weak. The doctor thought that she had pneumonia pneumonia also but they knew that she was weak. Since then she has developed pneumonia and it looks like she will be there until at least next week. The biggest challenge is her building up her strength to the point where she can function on her own. At this point, it looks like she is going to be in an assisted care home for at least a short time. The thing is that we have been discussing off and on for the last few weeks about getting in house care for her and would have had it by this week. She had Mercy Home Care coming to the house up until about 3 weeks ago. It seems that some pencil pusher suddenly decided that since my mother's condition is chronic, a condition that she has had for over 20 years, that she would no longer get home care. This greatly effected not only her daily life but her mental condition.


At this point, I don't know what the future will bring. My mother is a survivor from a long line of survivors and often it's hard to tell how sick she is. This could be my prospective and maybe it's influenced by my emotions but I've seen her go from death bed to perfectly OK so many times. A lot of it has been her state of mind. Now I'm not a believer that you can cure yourself through positive thinking but I'm not new here. I've been through this more than a few times with a lot of people and the thing that I can say was common with most of them was that at some point they decided they had had enough. There was a peace to it, yes but often it was brought on by a change in life style. I have to say that I greatly fear that if she goes to the “home”, she will not come out. She has this fear and I've seen how even on vacation, a change in environment effected he mobility and health. So there is some rough time ahead. As always I know that things will work out, business will pick up, the snow will melt, the bills will be paid, and that we will all adapt and life will march on but I have to say I fear the future. I see in her the fear of being a burden and I fear being in her place watching my son trying to make the right decision. This is because I see that in her face.


Till next time, stay warm and dry and keep moving forward,



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