Skip to main content

Tough choice? Youth voice!

Mark-Haugen.jpgChange presents adult coaches, mentors, club leaders and other youth educators with a chance to involve youth in the decision-making process. These opportunities arise all the time.

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.

lego-boys.jpgThe 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:
  1. Identify or define the situation or problem
  2. Determine possible options, choices or alternatives
  3. Evaluate the options, looking at the pros and cons of each choice based on the criterion: what is important to you?
  4. Choose one option and act on it
  5. 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

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Ah Mark, you speak of a process and life skill, decision making, that is an essential element to successful youth development programming. Without involving youth in the overall decision making to participate in the new program, but limiting decisions to how to complete the challenge activities within the program, one is missing the full leadership potential of the program. However opportunities to practice safe decision making at a small scale is vital. How do we ensure youth are not overwhelmed by decision making opportunities presented them?

  2. I hear you Carrie. I don't tend to worry about the decision making opportunities presented to youth. I worry more about following through. In this situation a group may need to seek donations, complete a fundraiser or pay for the new equipment. How would you recommend that a youth worker support a group that is unable to follow through on their decision?

  3. Now that the FIRST LEGO League season is over, I can share that many teams chose to use their existing NXT LEGO Mindstorms robot for this year's season. (There are still teams that use the RCX, the initial Mindstorms LEGO robot)....all versions of LEGO Mindstorms can be used in our competitions.
    Most rookie teams chose to purchase the EV3 LEGO Mindstorms platform, but we did have some rookie teams that chose the NXT platform because of their previous experience.
    There are many chances in LEGO League for youth to make the decisions on what their team will achieve: which field missions to work on, which area of research to concentrate on and how to do their presentation.


Post a Comment