Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Twelve Ways of Looking at a Lego League Meet

The Boy’s team competed in the local Lego league championships last weekend.

A few observations:

1. If you ever want to feel better about your looks, spend some time at the Lego league. I usually lament my bloated, balding self, but compared to some folks there...let’s just say that regular bathing puts you in the upper echelon. TW stood out even more than she usually does.

2. Although TB’s team is all boys, the kids generally were pretty well mixed. Since TG is only a couple of years away from competing, I was glad to see that she’ll have some allies.

3. I couldn’t help but notice that TB has way more fun with his Lego league teammates than with his basketball teammates. Different kids. Couldn’t blame him.

4. No matter how positive and worthy the cause, any kid-related large gathering gets old by about the fourth hour. By the eighth hour, I was live-tweeting my boredom.

5. Organizations need to make choices. Either go the “trophies are for the victors” route or the “everybody gets a trophy” route, but don’t try to split the difference. The awards ceremony at the end dragged for a full hour, with musical interludes, so they could give a dozen variations on “most congenial.” TB’s team got skunked anyway. Losing wasn’t so bad; they knew going in that victory would be difficult. (They finished fifth out of 21 teams, which isn’t bad.) But to then sit through an hour of consolation prizes and still walk away empty-handed just felt mean.

6. The coach makes a huge difference. Last year’s coach was a disaster, and the year ended in a humiliating flameout. This year’s coach was positive, engaged, and dedicated, and I could see the difference on a daily basis. The kids loved practices, and they worked together well. They were still unmistakably energetic ten year old boys, with all that implies, but they never turned bitter or contentious. Even in defeat, they were gracious.

7. I don’t know when the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” song -- and dance -- came out, but apparently, every kid in America knows it.

8. If you’re going to ban outside food so you can capture the revenues from the concession table as a fundraiser, make sure you have the infrastructure to handle the entire crowd at one time. I’m just sayin’.

9. Having learned from experience, this year the league added an ethics category. Judges spoke to the kids separately from their coaches, asking a series of pointed questions to try to suss out the teams on which the coach actually did the work. Perhaps coincidentally, I noticed a significant dropoff in attendance this year.

10. At one point, when everyone was sitting on the bleachers, the emcee asked for a show of hands. “How many parents here today are engineers?” It looked like about half. I’m guessing that if so many engineers think this is good training ground for engineering, well, they probably know what they’re talking about.

11. I was far prouder of TB’s team’s finish than I ever was of any of his basketball outcomes.

12. Next year, we smuggle in lunch.

This post gave me a big smile. Don't take the lack of comments as lack of appreciation or interest, please.
I’m guessing that if so many engineers think this is good training ground for engineering, well, they probably know what they’re talking about.

I think it's not a matter of engineers thinking it's good training for engineering - I think it's more that when you have that kind of mind, all you think about is building things and making them work. Kids with that kind of brain see, without effort, how processes flow, how one thing leads to the other. As a child, legos give you that innate satisfaction felt after creating the well built helicopter / car / house / hospital or joy in the act of creating the flying robocar you've imagined and now can bring to life. It's more about making the kid happy than training (unless you're a Dragon Parent -that's a whole separate thing)

This kind of design thinking is innate, not limited to engineering but occurs very frequently there. If you have a parent with that trait, you are more likely to have it. You, DD, think that way - half the questions in this blog are about process design - you spend a lot of time thinking about optimization and trends. So TB would appear to have come by that trait honestly enough. You're kind to indulge his interests - would that all children were so lucky.
Re #7: The song came out about 10 years ago, old man.
Engineering is about teams building things. Starting in the first year, there are group projects which determine grades. Science, on the other hand, is into do it yourself, which is a huge cultural difference
Eric, I might have been in a line dance to that song in a Border State back when DD was TB's age. One of the periodic revivals likely explains its presence in the northeast. It is a very old folk song.
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