Field Trip: Goodwill Industries

IMG_2430I may have mentioned the FIRST LEGO League Challenge this year is Trash Trek.  The kids are learning about trash and recycling.  My special thanks go out to the mom who put together a field trip to a Goodwill processing center.

There were about 15 boys on the trip and our hosts graciously provided donuts and juice while the kids sat in spinny chairs around a conference table.  The kids really appreciated being treated in such a grown up manner.

Our hosts told us about the circle of Goodwill.  It starts with donations that are sorted and sold in the retail stores.  The money raised in the stores is used to provide job training and help to people in our community, who need a bit of help getting back on their feet due to challenges they are facing.  Once people are employed they are likely to donate items to Goodwill and the cycle continues.   Making donations helps us by giving us a place to take items we don’t need anymore.  People who are on a limited budget, committed to living a non-consumer lifestyle, or want to save money are helped by purchasing used goods at a low price.  People who need job training and other services are helped by the programs offered by the Goodwill.

IMG_2427We visited the area where goods are sorted when they come to the store.  There are about 150 different 501(c)3s operating under the Goodwill name so different regions have different requirements on what they accept.  The site we visited does accept clothes that are worn out and those are placed in bales and sold to other industries.   It can be helpful if you label clothes as such when you bring them in.   They also have salvage options for other items.

The site we visited has an electronics recycling program.  They refurbish computers and sell them to qualifying families for $85 for desktops and $125 for laptops.  They also work on and recycle printers, tvs, and other electronics.  The process they use for wiping hard drives is a 7 time overwrite.  You might imagine with a group of fifteen 9-13 year olds, there are a few tinkerers in the group, so we found out that this program accepts electronics even if you have dissected them or if they are missing a power cord.

After the tour we decided it would be great to send out a challenge to FLL teams to do a donation drive.  We are still in the planning stages, but our team is shooting for October 17th.  We are planning to take clothes and electronics.  I recently went shoe shopping and as soon as I came home I put the shoes I was replacing in a donation bag.  I even managed to get rid of more shoes than I bought!  Please let us know if you are inspired to do the same.  We would love to collect pictures from across the country of donations!

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Rainy Nights

Not to talk about the weather but…..


I super love this time of year, when the weather warms up, and we are doing field studies for biology and geology.  Monday we set off for Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio to see if we could find any migrating warblers.  I promise I checked the forecast – Rain in the late afternoon, high near 60 F.  I may have missed the wind speed.  When we got there it was 40 F with the wind howling off the lake at 30+ mph and steady rain.  The drive home was steady rain too.  SO… Our hike was a very short mile.  We did see a few warblers.  The warblers can’t to fly across Lake Erie in that kind of weather, so they were tucked in some low branches.  I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the warblers – I hope to remedy that within the next two weeks while the migration is still going.


The trip wasn’t a waste – We saw a couple of bald eagle’s nests (pictured) and actually saw an eagle land in the nest, disappear, and leave again about 5 minutes later.  We saw lots of egrets and what we think was a cormorant.  We are looking forward to making a return trip next week hopefully with warmer weather.

Egret at Magee Marsh

We spent some time reading Marvels in the Muck  by Doug Wechsler.  It’s a great book about salt water marshes and estuaries.   Of course now we are wondering, “What are the differences between salt water marshes vs. the marshes and estuaries around Lake Erie?”

FLL CollageAll the stormy weather this week was a great reminder how much E’s team learned during this past year’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL) season.  The theme for 2013-2014 was Nature’s Fury.  Each team selected a natural disaster, researched it and presented an innovative solution.  The solution isn’t just for FLL competition.  The kids share the solution with the community it is designed to help.  E’s team researched tornadoes and developed a Debris Protection System.  There’s no substitute for a safe shelter but the Debris Protection System can help because – “Wearing a helmet during a tornado is a no brainer.”

I was working on my end of year summary, and it was great to see how FLL contributed to some really great unit studies.  I love that these kids are encouraged to research, reach out to experts, use their creativity, and make a contribution to their community in addition to developing programming skills.  Sign up for the 2014 – 2015 FLL season begins May 5th.  The theme will be:


The promo says, “Teams will teach adults how kids want and need to learn.”  I’m really excited about this challenge.  I hope educators and policy makers are paying attention, because the kids are going to come up with some great ideas.

Speaking of great ideas – if you didn’t have a chance to check out the finale of the Angelic Scalliwags  Medieval study it is amazing.  Claire does such a great job guiding her kids through project based learning studies.

Much of our week was spent shivering beside soccer fields.  I really appreciate the coaches and all the time they put into coaching and encouraging the boys.  Wednesday night practices were rained out and I found myself walking around the house singing, “I love a rainy night.”  It was such a joy to have a relaxed dinner with the kiddos.

What places are you exploring?

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4 Reasons Kids Really Like FIRST LEGO League


First let me say congratulations to the RoboTigers!  They had a great showing at their regional tournament and they are moving on to districts!  They won awards for Robot Design and the Regional Ambassodor Award for their work telling other kids about FLL.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a great program designed to get kids interested in STEM activities and careers.  The entire FIRST program spans kindergarten through 12th grade with the FLL portion geared toward kids 9-14.

Each year the competition centers around a new theme.  This year the theme is Nature’s Fury – Prepare. Stay Safe. Rebuild.  Teams chose a community and a specific natural disaster the community faces.  The teams researched the problems people in the community face and came up with an innovative solution to help the community prepare, stay safe, or rebuild after natural disasters.  The teams are also expected to share their ideas with the people they want to help.

This summer some members of the RoboTigers were caught outside during a tornado warning with only a pavilion for shelter, so they decided to help their community better prepare for tornadoes.  The team researched tornadoes by skyping with a meteorology grad student, emailing a professor studying tornado safety, and reading about research regarding helmet use in tornadoes.  They also surveyed kids in their community and kids from Oklahoma to find out what they knew about tornadoes and tornado safety.  From their research they learned that most injuries in tornadoes are caused by debris.  They decided to create a portable Debris Protection System.


They designed an experiment to test the suitability of different materials.  Then they designed a few Debris Protection Systems using bike helmets, safety glasses, gloves, and “leather” capes.


They presented the Debris Protection System at a city council meeting and at a Cub Scout  Meeting.

The other portion of the FLL competition is the Robot Game.  I’m sharing a short 2:30 video of the RoboTigers at competition.  Not everything went correctly that day.  Sometimes that is just the way things work, slight variations in the table or mat between home and competition can make a difference.   For a complete overview of missions in this years robot game you can check out the official 28 minute video.

So what do the KIDS really like about FLL?  I asked the RoboTigers to tell me their favorite thing(s) about FLL.

1. It’s FUN.  They have a great time together as a team.  When they are really putting in the final push to get ready for a tournament they frequently eat meals together and have plenty of time to goof around.  Another nice aspect is the team stays together year after year.

2. Programming.  The RoboTiger team makes sure all the kids participate in programming the robot.  They really enjoy the sense of accomplishment when their mission works.  There is something really satisfying about making a robot do what you want it to do.

3. The Robot Game – The tournament atmosphere is really fun and high energy.  The kids have fun building the props for the missions and nicknaming the characters.  They enjoy planning the missions, running the programs and designing the attachments.

4. Designing an Actual Prototype – They enjoy the chance to come up with real world solutions.  This year they were able to develop a complete Debris Protection System and spread awareness that wearing a helmet during a tornado can save your life.  FIRST provides a great opportunity for kids to have their ideas heard and respected.

If you have a son or daughter you think might be interested in FLL stay tuned.  I’m working on more posts – including how to start a team and the aspects of FLL parents and coaches really appreciate.

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World Class Challenge

Check out the FIRST Lego League challenge for 2014



The challenge is going to involve kids explaining how they need and want to learn!

I’m looking forward to hearing their voices!

I will do some posts come April 2014 on starting an FLL team.

FIRST Lego League qualifying tournaments will be going on for the next month so check your area.  Many events are open to the public.  Please contact a regional contact to ask about tournaments in your area.