FLL Global Innovation Award Experience Propelled 2010 Winners Forward (published November 2013)
Oh, the places you’ll go! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights! (Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)
Life has been in perpetual motion for the 2010 FIRST® LEGO® League BODY FORWARD℠ Challenge winners, for whom success through perseverance has become a defining theme.
Members of the Flying Monkeys, who took the $20,000 top prize for their BOB-1 hand device at the FLL Global Innovation Award, have gone on to represent the United States and Global Innovation Award winners at Earth Summit 2012 in Brazil and even got to meet President Obama at the White House.
Now in high school, the all-girl team from Iowa is working with a patent attorney and an examiner from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the second response of their application while seeking test subjects for their device, which has about six users.
“The patent has been a whole lot more work than anybody anticipated, but we’re hopeful,” says coach Melissa Murray. Though all the girls continue to study STEM in their high school classes, the team “decided to hold off and see what happens with the patent. We needed to take some time to regain normalcy in the past year.” One member remains active with FIRST®, having graduated to a FIRST®Robotics Competition team.
Crediting perseverance gained through their FLL® experience, Melissa says the girls – who are leaning heavily toward science and engineering careers – all completed their Girl Scout Silver Awards, which requires a minimum of 50 hours of work on one specific area. “They have become confident in their skills and have developed the ability to stick with something without giving up,” she observes.
Runners-up The 4th Motor, a fellow all-girls team, have moved on to FIRST® Tech Challenge. Though co-coach Shawn Hunter says “it didn’t make any sense to move forward with the patent process” once their attorney found a similar product already being patented, the girls continue to innovate. Shawn shares coaching responsibilities with his wife, Meg.
In the 2011 FOOD FACTOR℠ Challenge, the team invented a strawberry container that delays decay for which they received a provisional patent. In the 2012 SENIOR SOLUTIONS℠ Challenge, they came up with a fall detection device. “The FIRST LEGO League program is so empowering for these kids,” Shawn says. “They’re inventors. In our rookie year, they made it to the FLL World Festival. This gives them an opportunity to shine.”
Meg’s and Shawn’s three daughters, all of whom were part of 4th Motor, are considering STEM careers. “The oldest is talking about computer programming, which she never talked about when she was younger,” he says. The youngest, according to Meg, would like to be a biomedical engineer "like Dean Kamen's brother.” Meg says their family is grateful for the opportunities FIRST offers to young women.
One of the other perks of FIRST involvement, according to Shawn, is the vast scholarship opportunities available. “My goal is to use the team members’ experience at FIRST to help them get into any college they choose. That will be the grand finale of our involvement in the FIRST program.”
Enthusiasm for FIRST has proved infectious in their Wisconsin town, where “every sixth grade in our district participates in the FIRST program as part of the curriculum,” Meg says. “Our FTC® team is going to pay for the patent application for the best invention to come out of this year's classes.”
Adds Shawn, “We believe this is the first school in the country that has initiated an FLL class. We’re passionate about it, and now we’re passing it on to the schools as well to help other students experience it.”
Like The 4th Motor, the Lincoln Blue Gear Ticks of Massachusetts also have had to walk away from patent efforts for their winning design, the Unfurling Stent for Growing Children. Undaunted, the team went on to become runners-up for the Champion’s Award at the 2012 FLL World Festival, where they were the highest-ranking U.S. team.
“Everyone loves success, and they’ve been hugely successful,” says coach Anne Hutchinson. “But what I really like is what FLL has done for them. It’s shown them that there’s an answer, but that answer can always be made better, whereas in school, you get the right answer, and you’re done. But that’s not usually the way it is in the real world.”
The team members – most of whom mentor FLL teams and are on an FTC team – won a trip to NASA in Houston and also visited Washington, D.C. “”FLL teaches them that working on a team is better than working by yourself. It’s a powerful message,” Anne says.
Anthony, a team member who attends high school outside the area, recently told Anne about how “he uses some of the organizational techniques he learned at FLL” as he runs his school computer group, brainstorms, and assigns tasks. Though the four girls and five boys vacillate on their long-term plans, “I would be surprised if any of them chose anything that’s completely unrelated,” Anne says. “They may be writing about science and technology, but I would say most of them will be engineers.”