Thursday, 30 January 2014

Behind the scenes of C14 Lego Robotics: It's not just bricks and pizza.

The videos produced by C14 Lego Robotics might lead you to think that the First Lego League competition is all high-tech and whizzy and glamorous. Sure, there's a lot of building and programming, and quite a bit of pizza eating (surely the realm of the rich and famous), but there are other aspects to the competition that aren't so well advertised.

The team has to research a problem associated with 'Nature's Fury' (the FLL theme this year) and then present their findings, and a proposed solution to the problem, to the judges. It takes a lot of work to get that presentation right. And quite a lot of my sofa, dining room table, floor...(you get the picture). There was me thinking that a presentation was about the spoken word. Apparently not.

Ds1. More research. More editing. More late nights.

Outside of the robot construction and programming, there have been additional requirements for lego building. For example, ds1 created this attachment in order to carry a video camera on top of the robot . This means they can get better footage of the robot attempting challenges.

Behinds the scenes mothers are working hard, too. This mother has been producing home bakes to send with her two team members as they head off for yet another mammoth roboteering session. Yes, I know the pasties look like a road traffic accident, but I'm told - by the boy who doesn't eat normal things - that they are very good.

On Monday they worked from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Today is the second day of their 2-day intense Weds-Thurs session. Last night they slept over at another team member's house and I don't suppose they'll finish early today.

There has been an awful lot of packing, unpacking, packing: a constant pile of ingoing and outgoing bags in my hallway. And tomorrow we pack, yet again. This time for Loughborough and the national competition.

If you haven't 'liked' c14 robotics team on their Facebook  page, please do so. They would love to reach 200 likes before they set off for the competition - only 25 to go! (I know, I'm nagging...)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

C14 Lego Mindstorm Robotics Team (First Lego League)

The team are still working overtime with their Lego robot, preparing for the Nationals on 1st February. My boys spent almost 6 hours on Monday - in between biology class (ds1) and Lamda drama session (ds2) - working on the robot and the research presentation. Monday was also the team's ‘Open Day’, the second opportunity they've had to share their work with the public. Team members showed other families how the robot worked, how they programme it, and demonstrated the robot in action completing some of the challenges.

I know I'm a mum and it's my job to be proud of my boys, but I am *really* impressed with how far all the team members have come and how much they've grown in confidence. When they started, some had never programmed a Lego robot before, most had never researched and written a presentation, and few had read out anything in front of an audience before. Not to mention the experience of working really closely as a team, under pressure. It's been an amazing journey for all of them.

At the open day on Monday they spent a little while sharing their research project with the audience. [Here's the First Lego League website with details for this year's project challenge]. C14's problem was how to help people trapped in fires following an earthquake.  (They discovered when they started researching natural disasters for their project that more damage and injuries/fatalities are caused by fires following earthquakes, than the earthquake itself). Their proposal is for an autonomous rechargeable drone that maps the location and extent of fires and relays that information back to emergency services. It is also designed to be able to carry cargo (e.g. supplies for emergency teams). They've been working on acronyms for the design. I don't have high enough clearance to be given that top secret information yet! 

All this research on drones has inspired them to set their sights even higher. There have been rumours (mothers eavesdropping on teen conversations) that some team members are planning to design and work together on a flying model quad copter, once the Lego competition is finished. I don't even know what a quad copter is, but I'm seriously hoping its insides aren't going to be on *my* dining room table! 

There are also plans in the pipework for some of the team to mentor a younger group of budding Lego robotics enthusiasts later this year. There’s been a huge amount of interest from other families, stirred up by the C14 demonstrations and the publicity from their website, so I can't see they'll have a shortage of willing participants.

The team are meeting up again tomorrow (mine are working on the project from home) and again at the weekend and on Monday.  It’s going to be a long week. However well they do at the Nationals, whatever place they come among the 29 teams, they couldn’t possibly have worked any harder than they have.  

The team has been adding more to the website to get it looking its best:

They also have a youtube channel, where they've posted videos of their robot in action (and a few fun videos of times where things didn't go to plan). [Insert proud mum moment...Ds2 made the computer animations at the beginning of each video. He loves his tech!]
And...if you happen to be on Facebook, I'm sure the team would love a few more 'likes' or just a comment to wish them luck for the Nationals. Search for "C14 robotics team".

Shameless plug/Proud Mum moment over :)

Monday, 6 January 2014

LEGO Robotics: the end is in sight...perhaps

Since the summer my two boys, as part of their team, C14, have been working towards a Lego Robotics competition run by First Lego League. Before Christmas they successfully beat all the teams in their regional competition and are now headed towards the nationals on the 1st February.

It has been a long haul.

Not just for them, but for their mother, whose diesel expenditure has gone through the roof, ferrying them backwards and forwards to team meetings and who has shuffled filed carefully a years worth of bills and bank statements while sitting in Sainsbury's cafe waiting for meetings to finish. Lots of filing, interspersed with fretting about whether Sainsbury's really do enforce their 2-hour parking limit. I even went to the library and lent a man a stapler while I sat and pondered the mental health of the - obviously borderline insane - woman on reception. My life has been thrills and spills.

Of course I can't help being their mother. Making helpful comments about their project write-up - "How about you put a full-stop somewhere in that paragraph?" - have resulted in occasional bad feeling and frequent teen sulking. Despite this, the whole exercise has, I think, been productive, (even if it hasn't vastly improved their ability to punctuate a sentence). I now have children who are willing (and able) to give a presentation in front of people. I have children who have shown how nice they can be to other children - if only to score a few more marks from the judges for 'coopertition'. And yes, that is a real word, apparently trademarked now (will me using it here be infringement of copyright, I wonder?) And I truly think they have learned lots of other things, I'm just not exactly sure what those things are. Educational, life-enhancing stuff, I'm sure.

I wont post team photos up here, but here's the link to their website where, if you want to see Lego robots doing Lego robot things, you can see for yourself what they've been up to.

[Sometimes real life intrudes when I am writing, so I feel compelled to mention that I'm typing this to the background noise of dd yelling 'left paw' at an animated dog on her Nintendo ds. Apparently the dog now does handstands. I am trying to sound excited. Except that we have a real dog that doesn't even come when it is called. I can't help thinking that the world is getting very surreal. ]

When the universe comes together...

...and brings small wicked pleasures. Like when you're driving down the half-flooded, dual carriageway with the windscreen wipers on triple speed, and realise that the irritating squeak they always emit synchronises perfectly with Spandau Ballet's 'Gold'.

Now that's why I can't be doing with listening to Radio 4.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

JELLY JUGGLING (reasons to be absent, part 1)

I haven't blogged as much in 2013 as I had hoped to.

I had grand plans.

I wanted to write about our first steps into taking exams. I wanted to write about how we have moved from a very autonomous, eclectic style of home education to a far more structured way of life. I wanted to document it all, day by day, week by week.

But it hasn't happened. And the longer I left it, the harder it was to come back to blogging.

I've noticed that I'm not the only one to have had a quiet blogging year. Other regular blogs that I used to visit have been strangely silent. My guess is that many of those families have children about the same age as mine and, like us, have found that life gets in the way of documenting life.

If you thought life was busy home edding small children, just try starting on the whole GCSE/IGCSE route. It eats up your time, invades holidays, nags at the back of your mind whenever you think you might have a moment's peace and, yes, becomes all consuming.

It's rather like taking exams yourself, except that when it's you taking the exam, you know how hard you've been studying and how much (or little) you know. Dragging someone else through the exam process, when all you can do is spoonfeed information in one end and catch it as it falls out the other end is  somewhat like juggling jelly. All day. Every day.

I have spent the whole year thinking about jelly, wondering how I can improve jelly, Googling jelly-sites for improved jelly recipes, investing in jelly-is-us resources until there is no more room in the jelly cupboard.I have not wanted to post photos of jelly, or report our progress in jelly juggling all year.  My life has been consumed by jelly. I am totally jellied out.

But things will improve. They are improving. I will not ever, I think, enjoy jelly. But perhaps I will become accustomed to it. I may even grow to be a better jelly juggler.