Louise Rainone, Director of Strategy and Business Development, PCDworksI have to admit, I’ve never really LOVED spending time with other people’s children. I like quiet and clean and neither of those things are often associated in the context of large groups of children.

I have two little boys and I love them more than anything but the reality is hanging with others kids isn't always the most fun way to spend time, this is until I founded a Jr. FLL team at Frankston Elementary in Frankston Texas. The very first East Texas FIRST group.

What is a Jr. FLL team you ask? It stands for Junior FIRST Lego League.  If you aren’t familiar with FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) I suggest you familiarize yourself with it.

For those of you that that don’t know about FIRST, a little background. FIRST is an organization that was set up by Dean Kamen 25 years ago to enhance and encourage the love of technology among the youth. Over the years FIRST has built an organization that starts at kindergarten and goes all the way through high school.  

The goal is to not only allow kids a hands on experience with science and engineering but also to help kids grasp the fundamentals of critical thinking and collaborative creative processes, two things that our American culture severely lack.

Part of my job is raise awareness of my company and what we do here at PCDworks. We have hosted schools and universities and even mentored adults in our community but we have never actually worked to educate on the topics of science and engineering. Sponsoring, volunteering and spearheading the inaugural East Texas  Jr. FLL team was a wonderful journey which facilitated the hands on learning and applied understanding that so often our schools don’t have an opportunity to provide.

How the programs works is you put together a team of no more than 6 students.  In our case we had 22 students in grades 1-3 and broke them up into groups from there. Over the course of 8- 16 weeks the teams research a topic, build a mechanical “prototype”, including a motor then present their work  to an audience. Our program was 8 weeks long, once a week for 90 minutes.

If there is one thing that I learned is that EVERYONE loves LEGOS and we need more LEGOS in our class rooms. We often found that we had a lot of parents coming in to help and observe our creative process. We all instinctively know how great LEGOs are for playing and building but they are even better for engaging kids the learning process, getting them to think critically, solving problems and visualizing an idea.

One of the greatest moments on our journey happened the day the teams got their motors to incorporate into their design. It was like Christmas and Birthdays all wrapped into one 90 minute session of craziness. You would have thought that Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift were on site. The enthusiasm to get going and see their project come to life was just incredibly inspiring to me. 

The most amazing thing was that even when they had assignments to complete and share with the group the kids were happy and excited to do that. They loved all of it and when it was over they wanted to know when the next session will begin. I look forward to making this a more permanent program in our school and making sure that our kids have a continuous supply of hands on applied learning. After all that’s how learning is really done.

I would like to challenge all companies large and small to get into the schools in your communities and start a FIRST program. If you are manager or an owner or a VP, I challenge you to give your staff the time to engage our next generation of scientists and engineers.