Friday, April 2, 2010

Presentation Day

Definitely one of the highlights of the year for us is being involved in the Junior First Lego League. Today was presentation day, which tagged into the First Robotics regional program.  The display looked great, the t-shirts were all decorated and the kids were super excited to present their project and their model to the reviewers, the organizers and and the other teams. The day includes time for touring the other displays, presentations to reviewers who come and ask the kids about their team, their project and their model, a story and a lego building challenge.

Like the last time we did this the kids begged to do it again. It's such a wonderful program. The organizer is excellent and creates a fun, inclusive way for the kids to be involved and to share what they learned. It's so amazing to watch kids use their lego to tell people about what they have learned and to see how excited and proud they are of their work. This year is the last year Colin and Emily will be eligible I think.  The next level of programming is the First Lego League which involves more commitment, more work, more time and money and is competitive.  We're considering fielding a team, but we will miss the fun of this event.

How Wind Turbines Move - Presentation

An important component of the JFLL program is the presentation of what the kids have learned.

Using a standard trifold presentation board the kids need to communicate information about their topic, their team, and the ways they learned.

Over the course of the month or so that we worked on this, we would review what we were learning with the kids at the end of each meeting and send out minutes of our meeting with a summary of our discussion and the to do list for the next meeting.

The presentations (as with all components) need to be done by the kids. After we had done enough research we planned both the model and the presentation and the kids discussed what they would like included. They decided they would each draw one component of the transportation path and worked out with each other who would do which part. They also drew smaller pictures of their favourite windmills, as everyone was drawn to a different type and this allowed them to make sure their favourites were included in the presentation. They brought their completed pictures to the last meeting to show each other and then we went over the guidelines for what else we need to include in the presentation. They dictated what they wanted to say for each part of the presentation as I typed it, and then we talked about how it would be laid out on the board.

Here is the content of their presentation:

Left Panel
For our topic we chose to learn about windmills and wind turbines and how they get transported.

About our team
Our name is The Screaming Lego Kids. We picked that name because it has all the first letters of all our first names. Some of our team goes to school and some of our team homeschools. Our coaches are our mums and our dads.

What we learned
We found that different parts of the wind turbines manufactured near our home come from Germany, Korea, and Canada. Parts in Germany (gears) and Korea (generator) would travel by train to a harbour, where they get loaded on to a ship and sail across the ocean to North America. In North America they would travel by truck and maybe train to the factory. The wind turbines are assembled in big parts at the factory. From the factory they would be loaded on to a flat bed truck to travel to the windfarm site.

Our Model
Our model shows how parts of the wind turbine travel from Germany and Korea to the final site, by ship, train, and trucks.On our model, pulleys and gears help the crane work. Wheels move the trucks and crane.

How we shared
We will do presentations at a school for Aaron’s class, at a church, to our homeschool group and at a children’s museum. We also have a team blog at

Right Panel
Transportation Challenges
We think that people and companies should buy things locally when they can.
The general manager of the turbine manufacturing company told us that his company tries to buy local parts. About 80% of the parts are supplied locally. But because of the cost, he soon will not be able to buy locally because it is so much cheaper to buy from China, even when he includes the cost of transporting everything. We think that is sad for the environment and for the people whose jobs will be affected.

Our Favourite Windmills (labels on the pictures)
Emily: This is an old style farm windmill. My mum had one like this on the farm when she was a girl. I like the way the blades are shaped.
Maeve: This is my favourite kind of windmill. A Dutch windmill. I like that the bottom is made of bricks.
Aaron: Two blade wind turbines are more efficient than three blade wind turbines.
Sara: I like the big three blade windmills like the one’s near Lake Huron.
Sam: I like the Darrieus wind turbine because it is on the vertical axis. I also like the "egg beater" nickname.
Colin: I like single blade wind turbines because they are the most efficient but they are hard to balance.

Ways we learned
~ We read books on windmills and wind turbines and about transportation.
~ We researched online and we watched videos online about transportation and windmills.
~ We visited a model Dutch windmill in our city and asked at our city museum about why it was there.
~ We did an experiment about wind and blades and built a model of a wind turbine.
~ We interviewed the General Manager of a wind turbine manufacturer.
~ We visited a wind turbine at a house near where we live, and the general manager talked to us about how it works and how it was built.
~We watched a presentation about trucking and logistics, from one of our dads who works for a Logistics company.

The centre panel showed the kids' pictures of the various modes of transportation used to get the windmill from initial components through to installation. We also included a world map that showed the transportation path, and photos along the bottom that we had taken of our various meetings and field trips.

Getting Started with a JFLL team

The JFLL program provides excellent support to the coaches with ideas on how to help the kids to get the most out of the program. There is a coaches pledge and a set of core values which help the coach define the culture for the team.

Even with that great support, it is nice to have a sense from other teams of how they actually do things.
Because this project was driven by my kids we started talking about who might be the right friends to invite to participate in this project with us. From a logistical standpoint we needed to keep the numbers reasonable The first time we did this, even though there were 6 official team members, there were 11 kids in total once we counted all the siblings - a great number for field trips but large for team dynamics unless the parents and kids are all on the same page regarding expectations (which thankfully they were).  Having had that experience, the conversation with my kids about who to invite focused on who we thought we would work well with, knowing that if we worked well together the whole project would be more fun.  I think this step is especially important in a homeschool or afterschool setting.

Then we invited our friends and set up our initial meeting. Our first experience with JFLL taught me how well it worked to structure our get togethers like meetings. I find this project is an excellent tool for teaching the kids all kinds of skills including project planning, participation in meetings, research, sharing learning etc

We used our first meeting as a way to talk through how we would work as a team and how the projectwould come togetehr. We planned out using a calendar what needs to get done, talked about team rules and how to work together, talked about ways to research and how to share that info, talked about how to do a group presentation, etc. We used that at the starting point to figure out team name, colour of t-shirts, what our project would be about, and how we needed to structure our meetings to make things work etc. The kids, with a little guidance, came up with excellent ideas and really worked hard to create a positive team atmosphere. We set up an email loop of the parents, talked about costs and what resources wecould offer, and what the time commitment would be so that we were all on the same page.

Here are some of the nuts and bolts of how our process looked.
Our meeting structure:
1) Opening
~ reminder of our team rules (listen, share, don`t interrupt, build on each others ideas, work like a team)
~ outline of the plan is the for the time together,
~ review our project plan and what we did last week to figure out if we are on track and if we need to adjust our timing
~ discussion of  what did people had learned and done since our last meeting that they want to share? Are there any questions that come out of that which need research etc,
~ discussion of what decisions do we need to make today
~ overview of what the rest of the meeting will include.
2) The Good Stuff
This is where we would do the work, the learning or the building part.
3) Closing meeting (always over snack):
~ how did today go,
~ are we on track,
~ what is the plan for the next meeting,
~ did anything happen today that impacts our schedule,
~ are there any questions that need more research,
~what is our to do list before the next meeting,
~ go around about how we felt the meeting went
4)Free play (we usually keep this short - about 30 minutes - because we want to keep the lego work part of it the focus of the time together and separate it out from regular play dates - I think it gives it some more importance and helps the kids settle into the idea that this is a focused time. We tend to discourage lego play if it would impact the project because frankly some of the kids just want to run around at this point and we want to encourage a team approach for the JFLL activities.

Keeping stuff organized
~ The kids all have notebooks for the paper component (worksheets, drawings, notes, info we print out from the internet, pictures, their question list etc)
~ We do minutes after each meeting (aimed at the kids w a separate to do list for parents) which are circulated via email.
~ We tried to share out the duties between the parents for organization items like buying t-shirts, supplying snack etc so that the kids see their mentors/adults working as a team as well.
~ We didn't (but we should have) set up a spread sheet to track expenses.  With different people contributing different bits, the analysis of the debits and credits and final payments challenged my algebra skills.

The Fun Stuff
One of the most amazing things about JFLL is how many interesting ways there are to research your project and I think this is where the real learning happens. We wanted to use field trips and multi sensory learning activities. This blog was a great way to track them so that we could share with each other and eventually with other audiences.
We took lots of pictures but I wish we had videotaped some of the kids explaining their presentations on April 1st.

Oh and get t-shirts. Ours were simple craft store t-shirts with inkjet transfers run through my computer printer. The kids decorated them however they wished. They make the team feel like and team and become a favourite part of the memories of the day.

I can't say enough about this experience, how much fun we had and how great it was to share it with our friends.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interview: Colin

Why do you like doing Junior First Lego League?
It's fun because you get together with friends for building with lego.

How did you decide what to learn about?
Everyone came up with an idea for the first meeting and then we took a vote. My idea was ceiling fans, but I am glad we got to do windmills.

What was your favourite thing you did in the JFLL program this year?
Building with the lego.

Did you learn anything about windmills that you didn't already know?
I learned that one blade windmills are most efficient and that birds don't get hurt by them very often.

What picture did you draw?
I choose to draw the ship because I like boats. I put the water depth markings on the side of the boat because we saw that on the tanker we toured this summer. I put lots of shipping containers on my boat because we talked about making sure that the ships are full when they leave so fuel doesn't get wasted.

What would you tell other kids about JFLL?
I would tell them it is fun especially if you get to go on field trips and learn about interesting things.

Interview: Emily

Why do you like doing Junior First Lego League?
It's fun to do it with our friends.

How did you decide what to learn about?
We took votes at our first meeting. My idea was pop but I liked doing windmills too.

What was your favourite thing you did in the JFLL program this year?
My favourite part was talking about what we learned about windmills and how they travel.

Did you learn anything about windmills that you didn't already know?
Yes. I learned that windmills can pay back their owners in about 4 years.

What picture did you draw?
I drew the factory. I did the factory for two reasons - it was one of the things no one else chose and I was willing to draw whatever the team needed me to.

What would you tell other kids about JFLL?
You should try it too. It's really fun.

Interview: Sara

Why do you like doing Junior First Lego League?
Because it's fun when I get to do projects with my friends.

How did you decide what to learn about?
Um, we did a vote. My idea was windmills and wind turbines because a few days before our first meeting we saw a windmill being transported on the highway. I really like windmills.

What was your favourite thing you did in the JFLL program this year?
My favourite thing was getting the medal at the end of the presentation day.

Did you learn anything about windmills that you didn't already know?
I learned that the windmill that we saw was in a bad spot. That was on purpose because they wanted to find out all the things that went wrong on a wind farm then learn all the things that could go well.

What picture did you draw?
I chose to draw the train because I like trains. The name of the train the Rainbow Train.

What would you tell other kids about JFLL?
I would tell them that they should try it because it is fun and I like lego.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finishing Details

Today was our last meeting of the JFLL team before we meet at the challenge on Thursday. Kevin came and did a presentation about trucking logistics, the theory of JIT delivery and how that all affects manufacturing, costs etc. We worked on finalizing the words for our presentation and then refined the model slightly.
I love the JFLL program and always wish we could do more with it as it is such an excellent way to explore different concepts.