For example, every year thousands of young people compete in First Lego League, an annual challenge to design and build robots to solve a given problem. There is a different type of challenge every time and elaborate rules for participation. Among them are the equipment specifications -- software, sensors, programming. In January, First Lego League organizers announced the availability of a new robotic platform. More than 480 youth team leaders then faced the choice of whether to spend upwards of $500 to upgrade their equipment, and thus learn new software and skills, or use the equipment they already had and save precious team resources.
Would the benefits of upgrading outweigh the cost? Each adult leader faced this question. I wonder how many of the teams struggled with this decision and whether program leaders engaged youth in making it.
The benefits of developing strong youth decision-making skills are worth the investment. In The Leadership Challenge, Posner and Kouzes motivate leaders to teach this skill.
"By building...self-confidence, you are building their inner strength to plunge ahead in uncharted terrain, to make tough choices, to face opposition and the like because they believe in their skills and decision making abilities."
I saw the Lego league dilemma as a learning opportunity. Creating space and time to practice the skill of decision-making doesn't require an extraordinary talent, only a simple plan. In 4-H, youth learn about this when they join the The consumer decision-making project, which has a five-step process as a guide:
- Identify or define the situation or problem
- Determine possible options, choices or alternatives
- Evaluate the options, looking at the pros and cons of each choice based on the criterion: what is important to you?
- Choose one option and act on it
- Evaluate the decision - would you make the same decision again in a similar situation?
What do you think? When working with youth, how do you balance development of STEM-related skills and soft skills such as decision making? If you lead a FLL team, what decision did you make regarding the change in platform and how did you make it? I would especially love to hear stories of how youth were involved in the process.
-- Mark Haugen, Extension educator, regional 4-H youth development programs
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