Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Second FIRST and teams

A few posts ago I wrote about FIRST Robotics. We are now about a month away from the deadline for having the machines finished and shipped out.

Seeing the students work in a real problem-solving environment is interesting. As stated before, none of us know the “real” answer, and there may not be a real answer. My son in on the “JV” team, Team 424 there is also the “varsity” Team 340. Because team 424 is first or second year members the mentors are doing more guiding, but not making the decisions. The brainstorming is interesting to hear. Ideas are listened to and discussed. Ideas from everyone. The ideas are kicked around and modified. All of the students have input, which is greater than the input of the adults. The team is moving along with some pieces being built and others being prototyped and designed in CAD. It is enjoyable to see my son working with others and contributing to the team. This is a great thing for him to be doing. This group is doing a great job of cooperative learning.

Then there is Team 340. This team is made up of the older students and for the most part has younger mentors. The concept of team decision-making is not going on. When I looked in on them yesterday, they were still arguing about concepts and about three different factions were prototyping “their robot”. Each group was sure their idea was best, and wanted to prove it. But even in this process there was little constructive criticism in the group, just criticism. Is this going to end up as a failure? I don’t think so. This is a motivated group, and eventually they will realize they need to get going and work on a robot together, even if it is near the deadline, they will get it done.

What can I draw from these observations and connect them with PBL? How are the groups different, and how does this change the group dynamic?

Both groups have a set deadline, no excuses. If they miss the shipping date, too bad, your robot will not compete.

Both groups have been given goals for each meeting, are the goals reachable for this, yes and no, and the more experienced the group, the more they are able to think through some problems posed by the game and the robot. They have a larger knowledge base than the younger group, and hence more options.

The younger group has more mentors and the mentors are more vocal with opinions, the older group, the mentors are mostly a few years older than the students, with a similar amount of experience.

The older group is made up of a bunch of leaders, the younger group has fewer leaders and more followers.

What can be done? In a week or so, team 340 will see the time is near, and will somehow decide the best method to work. They will do a good job; some will be upset and be a drag on the team.

Do we ever expect this number of leaders on a team? Can this energy be put into various parts of the robot, working in sub-groups? That will have to happen soon. As long as the sub-groups work together.

Right now, it looks dire, but I am looking forward to how they work out their problems and move forward.

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