So I ‘coach’ robotics. Which is my way of saying I use robotics to teach kids to solve problems. I don’t ever teach them how to build or code their robots. Instead, I give them a challenge and stand back, offering guidance only every now and then.
For the last four years, I have entered teams into the World Robotics Olympiad. I have had teams make it to the international rounds for two years. Unfortunately, none of my teams performed particularly well in the actual international competition, but they were amongst the best in the country, and they did learn heaps: about themselves, about independence and about how to solve problems. And even those who didn’t make it past the regional rounds learned similar things. This is why I love robotics so much.
What follows are my students’ ideas about what robotics and being involved in robotics competitions has taught them about life.
- Don’t give up. To be successful, you have to fail plenty. Look closely at where things went wrong, understand why they went wrong, and fix them.
- Be very patient. Great things always take time.
- Find good partners. Things are easier in a team.
- Keep calm when things go wrong. If you panic, you won’t be able to fix anything.
- It’s better to use a smart code and to go with the flow and self-adjust than it is to try and ‘hard code’ to control everything step by step.
- Look for different solutions. Sometimes you get stuck on one idea.
- Be honest with yourself. If something really isn’t working, and you’ve tried a million ways to make it work, try something else.
- Once you are most of the way towards a solution, be careful about changing things too radically. Going back to line one isn’t always a good idea.
- You’ve got to learn to do things for yourself.
- Create some flair!
- Be organized. If you don’t have a plan, it will take you longer to find a solution. But be prepared to change your plan as other things change.
- Better parts don’t necessarily mean a better robot. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. (This sometimes forces you to be very creative.)
- Don’t compare yourself to other teams. Set your own goals and benchmarks and meet them one at a time. That way, you can never lose – even if you don’t win.
- Don’t copy other solutions. You have to understand the problem and find your own solution. Otherwise, if things go wrong, you won’t know how to fix them.
- Don’t be afraid to stand out. If everyone has a similar solution and yours is way different, you will stand out from the pack.
- Don’t let your coach or your parents or anybody else do too much for you – no matter how well-meaning they are – or you will never learn to do things for yourself.
- Help other teams. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.
- Don’t be intimidated by big occasions. Take some time to explore your surroundings, and figure out where things are and how things work. Talk to some people, and give yourself time to settle in.
- Take a break. Sometimes you need to walk away or do other things. When you come back to the problem you can often find a good solution.
- Don’t get lost in the competitive element. You won’t learn as much and it won’t be as enjoyable if all you want to do is win.
- Sometimes you need to look at the details, sometimes you need to zoom out and see the big picture. Don’t get stuck on either one of these problem-solving methods.
- Every new environment brings with it its own set of challenges. Instead of complaining, learn to adjust.
- Stay with it and keep trying. You’ll never know how far you could have gone if you give up too quickly.
- Have fun!
Such smart kids.