DevJam Sponsored All Girls Robotics Team Wins for Innovation

David Hussman Coaching, News

Practical Philanthropy

DevJam has always made intentional investments in philanthropic endeavors as part of PhiloJam, a silent but powerful core value / entity for the company. PhiloJam is why DevJam does pro-bono coaching at Twin Cities non-profit Caring Bridge and hosts development sessions for Mano a Mano. PhiloJam is also the driver for the many local and national events we host. From our one day un-conference we call Agile Day to either of the local groups we created and host (Practical Agility and DevJam Jam Sessions) we’ve led events in other countries while simultaneously opening our doors for a host of Mpls groups looking for an interesting place to gather (e.g. Twin Cities Geekettes).

For the last two years, we have sponsored a collection of First Lego League (FLL) teams as part of our goal to promote STEM. If you don’t know about FLL, it’s a wonderful program that partners FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) with Lego robotics. Kids learn to work together to learn about robotics, programming and helping others (including others on their team).

Kids in Robotics and Girls in Technology

FLL teams take on three challenges: robotics missions, a project and core values. The robotics challenge is around building and programming a robot that can accumulate the most points running a selection of missions in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Like any good engineering challenge, there are times when the hardware works but the software needs tweaking and there are time when the reverse is true.

Also like any real world development challenge, the kids must learn to work together. In fact, one third of their score is around what FLL calls core 2014 robo cookies innovation trophyvalues like “gracious professionalism” and “cooperation.” The focus on values reminded of my introduction to extreme programming which also promoted teams bonding around The Values for XP.

Along with solving the robotics challenges and being scored on core values, another one third of their score comes from a project they have to build to address a real world need. This year the theme was “find a better way to help someone learn.”

After making it past the regional finals, The Robo Cookies, an all-girls team that DevJam sponsors, won the Innovation award for the State of MN competition. They won for the game they created called “The King’s Chef.” Players follow rules created by the team to play a game with cards created by the team to make food selections for a meaningful meal that is under a certain number of carbs. Winning the innovation award is no small feat in a state which now has over 600 FLL teams. The number of FLL teams in MN this year was greater than the number of boys hockey teams. With Minnesota being the the land of 10,000 frozen lakes, this is something to shout about.


The team was recently interviewed by KARE 11, a local TwinCities television station. Click here to see the interview 

first lego leaque kare 11 interview

Innovation and Agility

With my wife acting as one of the team coaches, I was fortunate to be part of some of the practice sessions as well as sit in on the final judging for their project. The team is composed of girls from Clara Barton Open School in Mpls. They are inspired by their parents as well as their excellent teachers. Teachers like Science Sue and Penny Jones (who hosts Physics Fridays in her 3rd and 4th grade classroom) ensure that science is part of their early education.

Without ever using the word Agile (or any other process language), the coaches asked the girls to work in what most software people would call an agile way of working. First they brainstormed ideas and then they democratically made a final selection from the candidates. The selections were a collection of missions to accomplish, some core values to focus on and a project topic. For the project, they wanted to teach a newly diagnosed diabetic how to count carbohydrates. To do this, they decide to create a game.

For planning, they brainstormed tasks on post it notes for the game and the missions. Once they had a pile (backlog) of work, they placed them in some rows on a wall chart that represented the practices sessions up to the competition. They used this visual plan to guide them, updating it at the start of each session, reviewing what they had accomplished (or not) and making choices about changes to their plan.

With core values like respect and listening, the girls worked on listening to each other by using a talking stick. One girl took it on herself to do some reflective learning by interviewing some of the other girls about their experiences and sharing her findings as a learning tool for the team.

robo cookies praticingrobo cookies presenting to design judge coach andieIt was fun to watch them grow and learn, experiment and adjust, and use a simple visual planning aid to stay connected as they worked through the challenges of being on a team: personalities, fears, varying levels of energy, introvert vs extrovert and not always getting their individual way when it collided with what was best for the team.

As a working coach, I felt for the team coaches as they did their part to guide the team while not doing the work for them. The entire eco-system reminded me so very much of the coaching work I do day to day in the real world development of software projects. Watching the girls work on working together made me want to make a recording so some of the adults I often coach might engage in a bit of coopertition.

What’s Next for PhiloJam?

Just as the 2014 FLL season ends for the DevJam sponsored teams, we are investigating ideas for philanthropic investments for 2015. We plan to host a collection of our Jam Sessions and Practical Agility sessions at DevJam as well as one or more one Agile Day and Open Space events. We are also considering ideas like coding dojos for kids and other STEM learning events. Beyond that we would like to once again be the host for National Day of Civic Hacking in MN and do more work that fosters women in programming.

If you know of a learning event that needs a home in The Twin Cities, please reach out to us via phone or email.