One of the hallmarks of FIRST teams is that they never let any obstacles come between the students and their dream. The Outliers, a [first] LEGO League team in Austin, TX, have been hard at work charting their own destiny with the support of Homeaway and their community. The team is made up of young ladies ranging in age from 10 to 12. The all-girls team was started when the elementary boys wanted the girls to separate into a different team, saying the girls asked “too many questions.” Well, any FIRST coach knows there is no such thing! The girls’ questions led them to make sure they fully understood the entire project before starting down any particular path and the team insisted on every girl being happy with every decision. The girls have been competing together since 2013 where they started together in elementary school and after a year of being split into two schools, they are excited to be back together in middle school for the 2015-2016 season. Elyssa, Caitlyn, Michelle, Bella, Kim, and Mantra had a lot to share about their experience with robotics and FLL.
FLL has always been about more than robots. Every girl in the Outliers especially loved learning to work on a team. Elyssa said that one of her favorite parts of the season was not only the Core Values practice, but “getting the parents to do them and having them see how hard they really are!” They are also learning how to communicate well, with Elyssa saying that her presentation skills at school have been great since participating in FLL. Of course, their building and programming skills have developed as well. Bella told us about the challenge of creating different attachments for every obstacle on the board and writing the program for each one. Through trial and error, they got the robot where it needed to be.
The girls have performed very well so far as a result of their sense of teamwork and their programming know-how, placing 3rd in their first year of competition. The experience has helped some of the girls realize the possibilities in their futures. Several of the girls, after not thinking they wanted to go into STEM fields, earned a place in their middle school’s STEM honors program, Gateway to Technology, for this coming school year. Now, they are getting the chance to apply concepts from their math and science courses to real world problems, just like in FLL. Michelle even says she wants to be an engineer or doctor when she grows up so she can continue collaborative problem solving.
The team has experienced a few challenges and they have risen to them admirably. In particular, they had a serious challenge with funding when the team was split between two schools. Neither PTA could support a team that was based in different schools and the team would not have been able to stay together and compete without a sponsor. And so, an innovative fundraising idea was born thanks to the parents and role models that support this team. HomeAway, a global company headquartered in Austin, has adopted the Outliers and now hosts an employee poker tournament complete with robot demonstration, the proceeds of which support the team. Thanks to this event, the girls are able to continue competing and are learning so much about how to realize their dreams with the support of their community. The Homeaway staff got an education, too. The staff was amazed by what the girls had accomplished and the room was filled with comments like “Whoa, how did the robot do that?” and “How old are the girls that programmed this robot?” Homeaway employees are showing their support outside of funding as well, and hope to be mentors to the Outliers this upcoming season.
Thanks to Homeaway’s encouragement and fundraising and the team’s determination, they are all-in for the 2015-16 season. As Michelle said, “I’m excited to win and work with a new mat and new obstacles. I can’t wait to see what new challenge we’ll face.” We’re excited, too, to see what innovative solutions they come up with this time.
It was a great opportunity for FIRST in Texas to spend time with teams like this one. We are based in Austin and committed to increasing access to FIRST throughout our state through our grant program. We love to recognize teams for their amazing work, both on our website and in our media. Have a great story to share? We’d love to hear it!
This blog was written by Gina Watts of FIRST in Texas. If you would like to blog for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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