Herding Unikitties

Coaching kids is hard. I mean, really hard. Last week, I had the awesome opportunity to be a coach for the first time. I’m coaching my son’s Junior FIRST LEGO League team. I’ve never coached kids for anything before. Sure, I’ve done a few show and tells in my kid’s daycare, and read a book to his Kindergarten class. But I’ve never sat with a bunch of kids for an extended amount of time with the expectations that they had to listen to me.

Before the first practice, I envisioned this:

itn12897

But in reality, this happened:

mythbusters_herdingcats

And sometimes:

41e1738f6084e01b0d717688000263cf-room-full-of-cats-going-crazy

Holy hell, my repeated remarks of, “please take a seat,” and, “stop running,” were interpreted as “ZOMG-SHOWER-ME-WITH-MORE-LEGOS-ARRARRRHAHAHAHAHA-I-DON”T-KNOW-WHATS-HAPPENING-SUGAR-AND-PRETZELSTICK-LIGHTSABERS!”

The practice was pretty awesome. It was absolutely amazing to see a bunch of kids who didn’t know each other, almost instantly bond like some sort of human katamari (it literally looked like rolling a human katamari sometimes). The LEGO really interlocked these kids. And yet, every kid was completely different. Right away, we observed the clever thinkers, the shy ones, the rebels, and the storytellers.

I learned a lot in this first practice.
1. Adults are easier to coach than kids. Adults will mostly stop what they’re doing, pay attention to the speaker, and do as they are asked. Kids don’t. Full stop.

2. Use the session plan in the LEGO coach’s materials as a very general idealistic guideline. There is absolutely no way in hell that 6 year old kids will spend an hour and half going thru all of that material. We did an initial brainstorm for team names, but couldn’t get their attention spans in check to actually decide on a name yet. Forget making a logo in that first session. And once the BuildToExpress kits were introduced, we only made it thru 3 of the challenges.

3. Keep things moving. This is where I failed. I came in with a bulleted agenda based off of the lesson plan in the coach’s guide. I tried to go through the program and discuss the six “core values” for the program (e.g. “We are a team,” “We share,” etc). But I didn’t effectively cater to the short attention spans of the 6 year olds. And once the BuildToExpress kits were introduced, it was game over – it was buildin’ time.

4. The kids want to build with LEGO, so let them. Before the kits were given, they spent the whole time, just looking at the big tote of materials in the class asking, “When we can use the LEGO??!?” instead of listening to what I was trying to say. Once the kits were introduced, it seemed like they weren’t listening to what I was saying, but they sort of were. They’re heads were down and focused on building, but they would actually pick up on some of the words coming out of my mouth. The kids are there for the LEGO. So let them build. The stuff for the season challenge will come in time.

5. The most important thing is to make sure the kids have fun. I found it important to get all of the kids involved, creating, and sharing.

We spent quite a bit of time (probably too much time) brainstorming team names. The kids were all antsy (see the third picture above) and it was clear that they wanted to get they’re energy out. So we tabled the brainstorm and just had them open the BuildToExpress kits and start having at it. The decibel level in the room quickly dropped for the first time. We just let them play with the kits for a good 10min or so and not give any guidelines or challenges. I finally gave them a 2 minute warning and told them that they would all have to present their build. I had each kid do the following:

1. What’s your name?
2. What grade are you in?
3. Who’s your teacher?
4. Tell us 1 awesome thing that happened today.
5. Tell us about your LEGO creation.

This not only got each kid to initially present to the team, but served as a pretty good introduction. I’m pleasantly surprised that even work. Having each kid go through the intro actually took a lot longer than expected. A few of the kids got pretty…enthusiastic… about the story behind they’re model. Some of the stories were pretty elaborate. It’s hard to cut off a kid’s story, especially when they’re so excited and proud.

Next we went into the challenge cards. Sticking to the “2-3min” is nigh impossible. Every time I said that time is up, it was pitchforks and yelling of “MOAR TIME PLZ!” It’s more like 5-6min for the build. And again, the sharing part took way long. I found it super important to make sure everyone was involved. If someone was too shy to share or was stuck, I tried to lead them along with questions to get them thinking and building. We got through 3 builds and decided it was time to try to nail a team name from the initial list we had at the beginning of the practice.

graph

Yeah, the team name didn’t happen. We were about an hour into the practice with about 20min still left, but the kids were done. My voice was background noise to their running and yelling. They were done with sitting, done with LEGO, done with humanity. I’m talking Lord of the Flies.

LordOfTheFlies 7

Ok, I may have exaggerated a tiny bit. In all seriousness, I’m really excited about this opportunity. It’s really cool to see the kids thinking and creating and working together. And this year’s challenge, Redefining Learning, looks incredibly fun. I’m super excited to see how this season goes.

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