Five 21st Century Skills Kids Gain From Joining Robotics Teams
Miguel was a shy freshman when he joined his high school’s FIRST® Robotics Competition team. With the encouragement of his mentors, he came out of his shell to become a confident public speaker and the team’s president. Miguel says he learned more than how to design and build a robot on the team: “I don’t really know where I would be if it weren’t for what robotics has taught me when it comes to communications, sportsmanship, and technology.”
FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) advocacy nonprofit, is a sport for the mind where every kid can go pro. Millions of students have participated in hands-on FIRST programs for kids ages 6-18. “One of the biggest benefits of FIRST is that kids get set up to find professional success, but they have a lot of fun while doing it,” says Don Bossi, president of FIRST. Through formal evaluation data, alumni report improved problem-solving, time management, conflict resolution and communication skills, plus increased interest in doing well in school and going to college.
Here are the top five work-life skills kids gain from participating in a FIRST robotics team:
1. FIRST participants learn to be creative and solve problems
Students must navigate restraints such as limited time and resources to meet deadlines and challenge requirements, but they won’t let that stop them. At FIRST competitions, each team comes prepared with a different solution to the same problem – including innovative ways to design and build their robots.
2. They master teamwork and collaboration
Just like any other team sport, camaraderie is developed in robotics, too. Students work together to solve problems and meet goals. Plus, there’s a role for everyone: Team responsibilities range from engineering and coding to fundraising and marketing. By working with others and integrating ideas born from teammates’ diverse backgrounds and schools of thought, students learn the true meaning of collaboration.
3. They find meaningful role models
Educators and parents play a large role in robotics teams, but other STEM professionals are just as crucial. Many FIRST teams have relationships with local engineers, computer scientists, marketers and more who volunteer their expertise and guide students through construction and competition. With companies like NASA, Qualcomm, and Rockwell Collins encouraging their own employees to be FIRST mentors and coaches, these relationships often lead to internships, networking opportunities and jobs down the line. Many students pay it forward, too, and mentor their old teams once they graduate.
4. They form global friendships
Joining a robotics team is a great way for kids to meet new friends, whether they’re teammates or competitors. That’s because, woven into everything they do, is an emphasis on the core values of FIRST. The students know these as Gracious Professionalism® (demonstrating respect for others, being a good sport, and sharing knowledge) and Coopertition® (competing intensely while also helping others). Some FIRST competitions are international and draw students from upwards of 30 countries, making them great opportunities to expand students’ worldview.
5. They lay the groundwork for their future career
There’s a shortage of skilled STEM workers in the United States: In 2016, 13 STEM jobs were posted for each unemployed worker, a difference of nearly 3 million available positions. No matter which STEM field students aspire to, there’s an opportunity to hone their skills through robotics. Findings from an ongoing 5-year longitudinal study by Brandeis University indicate that, compared their peers, students who participate in FIRST are 2.9 times more likely to show gains in STEM interest and 2.3 times more likely to show gains in STEM careers. Even if a STEM-focused career isn’t where they envision themselves, kids can gain valuable fundraising, marketing and event experience. Most importantly, robotics inspires a lifetime love of learning that is critical to success in an ever-changing workforce.
Robotics provides kids the technical and interpersonal skills they’ll need to meet workforce demands, drive economic growth, and solve the world’s biggest problem. The supporters and volunteers who carry out the mission of FIRST are helping nurture every kid’s potential to be a leader and innovator and inspiring the critical thinkers and creative problem solvers of tomorrow. To learn more about FIRST, visit firstinspires.org.
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