David Stolz never foresaw what the gift of a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT set to his son would result in over the next two years. All he knew was that he, his wife, and their son had developed a love for robotics.
“Then we thought, ‘What else can we do with that? Are there clubs or competitions to showcase this?’” David recalls. So David, a programmer, and his wife, a science teacher, approached the question in the way one would expect from a programmer and a science teacher: analytically.
The couple began exploring the five or six robotics organizations in the Houston area. With so much to choose from, the choice could have been difficult. It wasn’t. “FIRST LEGO League shone above them all for several reasons. One is that it is established in the U.S. and around the world. From a support standpoint and from a longevity standpoint, FIRST® will be around forever,” David observes. The professionalism of FIRST– particularly in Houston, home of the FLL Partner the University of Houston – was also a big draw to the family.
“The other aspect was fun,” David says. “We went to observe a tournament, and it was like Friday night football meets a spelling bee.”
David also appreciated the age divisions, which create “somewhat of an equal playing field” in which a 9-year-old can compete head-to-head with a 13-year-old. The broad age range “gives kids a new level of self-confidence,” he asserts.
David and his wife soon became co-coaches of Team TechnoStorm, a group of six sixth-graders from Cypress, Texas. In its first year, the team became one of 88 worldwide to be invited to the World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. The team also won first place in robot performance and the Champion Award for the South Texas FLL® region.
With FLL as a fixture in his family, David offers some advice to help other families determine if FLL is a good fit for them:
- Being on an FLL team is about interaction, David emphasizes. The right team dynamics will build upon your child’s strengths and help him overcome his weaknesses.
- Jocks, nerds, shy kids and chatty ones are equally at home on an FLL team. David speaks from experience: His team includes a potpourri of personalities that all mesh and serve their purpose. “Don’t assume it’s for one personality type,” he advises.
- Kids grow by learning they don’t have to know everything. “One of the things that we try to pass on to kids is that we need to know what we don’t know,” David philosophizes. “Some people go through life not knowing what it is they don’t know, and they have limited success.” In school, he says, “everything has a predetermined outcome. But FLL is very much open, and that’s very valuable to kids and very powerful for them.”
- You can run a home-based group if a school-based group is unavailable. David and his wife use their dining room – whose table is perpetually set up for meetings – as their team base. “Having no team around isn’t the end of the road,” he says.
David offers some final insight for parents and coaches: “Remember it’s a journey. Sometimes the best part of any experience is the journey. The overall purpose of this program is to develop lifelong skills for learning. These are young adults, and we want to try to build them into the next generation of people who are self-confident, who have time-management and presentation skills, and who can make a difference in anything they do.”