Teaching Science & Gracious Professionalism
January 30, 2008
Advance for Feb. 2, 2008
by Mike McManus
Copyright (c)2008 Michael J. McManus
Please contact Mr. McManus for reprint and
Mike and Harriet McManus.
Mike is a nationally published
columnist. Along with his wife, Harriet,
they run Marriage Savers which provides
a clear plan for communities that want
to end divorce in their city or county
and improve the quality of existing
|Mike spent many hours at the recent
Maryland JFLL and FLL tournament on
January 26th, 2008, at UMBC in
Baltimore. This is the column he wrote
for national release.
BALTIMORE - Last Saturday I witnessed 700
kids aged 9-14 competing with shrieks of delight
and joy in contests with robots that they had
constructed. There were no tears by the losers.
Really, all were winners. As one girl exulted,
"It will help me to be a better person. I can
set higher goals for myself and learn to achieve
them better because I know I can do it." She
even saw how what she learned could make her
employable. "I want to support myself, so I
don't have to depend on other people. I can help
support my family when I have one."
Coming in first is less important than learning
one can build a robot out of LEGOS that will
move in any direction, push plastic trees from
one side of the board to another, pick up a
model car and move it, lasso three rings of
"corn stalks" and move them, place a "hydro-dam"
over both banks of a section of a river drawn on
the board plus seven similar tasks.
And do all this in 2.5 minutes! As two students
manipulate the robot, five to eight members of
each team cheer from the sidelines.
Marco Ciavolino, a proud father of several
students competing in different age groups and a
computer scientist who coached four "FIRST LEGO
League" teams (Techbrick.com), asserted, "It turns
out that humans like a really tough challenge.
FIRST has proven unambiguously that if you
create an environment in which the right stuff
is celebrated, they compete like crazy, but
treat each other well in the process. It is a
really good thing."
Students are not told how to build the robots,
but are sent a box of parts with no
instructions. Each robot looks different. One
had rings that could be lowered to lasso corn
stalks, while others used a clip-on L-shaped
This year the students also had to conduct an
energy audit of a building in their city and
advise its owners how to reduce its energy
consumption. Calvert Junior High School students
told a library it could save 35% of its electric
bill by turning off computers not in use.
Homeschoolers in Harford County built a replica
of an 1870 boarding house, examined an updated
version, and quantified the value of various
forms of insulation.
This year there are 10,000 FIRST LEGO teams in
38 countries with 106,000 students and a junior
version for 5,000 6-9 year-olds. There are 1,500
FIRST Robotics Competition teams of 37,500 high
school kids who build large robots with 400
parts costing tens of thousands that race around
a 26 foot by 54 foot track, pushing balls over
and under an overpass.
After statewide competitions, 10,000 kids go to
the Georgia Dome for National Championships. The
competition is not just about skill in
manipulating robots, but also about that year's
research project, the kids' ability to describe
the design aspects of research and robots and
the teamwork of each group.
One father said, "Ten or 20 years from today
some of these kids will cure AIDS or cancer.
Some will win a Nobel Prize or build an engine
that does not pollute. Probably one of them will
do something spectacular they would not have
done it without this. These kids are the future,
and we are part of it by helping them figure out
what to do with their lives."
However, how many schools are getting kids
excited about math and science?
One African American boy summed up the problem
succinctly: "There are way too many kids saying
I want to go into the NBA or the NFL. I don't
hear kids saying, "I want to be an engineer."
That's what troubled Dean Kamen, founder of
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of
Science and Technology). He is a physicist,
entrepreneur and inventor, best known for the
Segway PT, an electronic self-balancing human
transporter used by airport police. He created
IBOT, a wheelchair that can go up steps, the
first insulin pump, and has 400 patents.
His vision for FIRST is "to transform our
culture by creating a world where science and
technology are celebrated. We are helping young
people see scientists and engineers in the same
light as their traditional heroes in sports and
entertainment." How? "Giving kids a hands-on
experience that allows them to use their
imaginations and creativity in combination with
science and technology to solve a real-world
problem is empowering."
He says it also fosters "well-rounded life
capabilities including self-confidence,
communication and leadership." He's raised $28
million from corporations for this work.
Why not get your school to compete next year? Go
to USFIRST.org .
END TXT Copyright (c)2008 Michael J. McManus
Michael J. McManus
"Ethics & Religion"
President & Co-Chair
9311 Harrington Dr.
Potomac, MD 20854