April 12, 2007

Our girls fix robots on their own

A few years back, at my former workplace, I had lunch with some of my colleagues. My memory can not recall the topic we discussed, but I mentioned my plans to buy Lego Mindstorms to my three-year old son. When hearing it two of my male colleagues (in their thirties) started to smile and asked simultaneously "When can I come for a visit? - to play!".

They are a part of the Lego generation, just as I am. I must admit, I still play with it. I play with my son, and I play at work. There are many like me out there. This winter we have been amused by an elderly man working at the University and sharing office space with us. He has bought two Lego NXT robots, to play with his grandson, and he enjoys it so much he keeps chatting about it all the time, with great enthusiasm. He makes us smile, and wish for many playful years ahead.

The Science Center organize the local First Lego League contest each year. Over the years we have observed the participating teams and seen a trend across the teams. They were all mixed teams with both girls and boys, and all collaborated in the same manner. The girls wrote the log and prepared the presentation, while the boys built and programmed the robot. Does it sound familiar?

Because of this we decided to gather our own team, girls only, and see if they took the front seat with the boys missing. So for the last two years we have organized and trained a girls-only team. All the other teams came from schools and could work on the project during school hours, while our girls had to work afternoons the whole two-month period. Despite their drawback of having less time available, they worked hard, had plenty of fun, gained new friends and learned lots about robots and programming. In 2005 they won the price for "Best collaboration" and last year they won the price "Best in show". I find it quite impressive, considering the hard competition they have had from teams with years of experience. Last year they ended as number seven, when six teams qualified for the final. Next fall we will set our goals higher, trying to focus more on the programming bit, to get a higher total score and get to the final. Because it is the robot and the programming that is most important in this contest, despite all the circus.

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