Thursday, October 27, 2005

Building the Playing Field

The first day of robotics.

I had 15 kids on my list, but for some reason, none of the sixth graders attended. I think they got the wrong information about when the program started; afterschool was incredibly badly organized this year, which is part of the reason I have been so stressed out this week. It was a complex task, matching kids with classes, but good grief! Anyway, my list included 12 boys and 3 girls, but all the girls were sixth graders, so today I ended up with just ten boys. I would like gender equity, but it is a low-priority given all the other things I have to deal with right now. When kids catch on that robotics is a lot of fun, we will get more girls, and I will recruit more for next year. Anyway, boys are arguably more in crisis than girls are in the inner city, and I would say that 6 out of the 10 boys in the program are underachievers - bright kids, some of the most creative and interesting kids in the school, but simply not productive when it comes to schoolwork. So if this program allows them to follow-through on a project, learn some stuff along the way, and experience school success, I am really not going to complain.

It sure is an interesting bunch, though! Each one of these kids is a handful by himself. And I've got 10, and will have more next week.

Anyway, we started class by sitting in a circle and talking about the FLL program. They had a million questions, and we reached the point where I said, "You are trying to figure it all out at the start. A lot of your questions will make more sense after we get started." So we unrolled the playing field on the floor, stood around it, and I described the challenges. This would have been easier if we'd had the various Lego props out on the field, but we hadn't built them yet.... and I wanted them to leave today with a sense of the big picture goals.

Yesterday, I had printed out the diagrams for building the various parts of the playing field, and had them in a folder in packets. I split the kids up in pairs and put each pair at their own table. Then I gave each pair one packet so they could start building. And then I opened the kit.

First lesson learned: Do NOT just open all the bags of Legos and dump the pieces in one box.

Duh. I know that sounds obvious, and I'm a science teacher, so I ought to know a thing or two about managing materials, but I made a split second decision and it was the wrong one! We spent probably twenty minutes crowded around the box, all the kids frustrated by their inability to find the pieces they needed. After a few minutes of this, I saw my mistake, got the organizing trays, and some of the boys started helping me sort the pieces. Anyway, it was crazy and we lost a lot of time, but as the pieces began to be more organized, they got started on the building. By the end of the period, we'd built the submarine, the 3 fish, the dolphin, the shark, the pumping station, the protective structure, half of the flags, the artifact, the bonus treasures, and I think a group had started the reef. So, we made good progress but have a good deal of building ahead of us, and it's the hardest building still to be done. Still, by starting with the easier pieces, I think the boys got some experience with the diagrams and it will be easier than if we'd tried to start with the harder pieces (the pipeline, boat, etc.). I'm going to have two boys come up at lunch each day to finish building the other structures.

Suddenly, it was time to go, and we had a lot of clean-up to do. I am going to assign clean-up tasks once we get into more of a routine, but for today, it was just like, "Okay, everyone, put all the finished structures in this box, roll up the playing field, put all loose Legos here, and please put all my chairs up and check the floors for missing pieces."

As a result of those directions, I had two 12-year-old boys crawling around on their hands & knees, looking for pieces. And a minute after that, one of them started barking! Um, very helpful.......

Anyway, we are all pretty excited. Updates every Thursday!


Blogger feetonrock said...

Again as I said in my post to your second installment about your robotics club, thanks for sharing this experience.

7:01 PM  

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