Build a Bot, Train a Brain

What if there were a teen extracurricular activity that was fun, wholesome, kept kids off the streets and the couch, while permanently wiring their brains for critical thinking, problem solving and social skills? And oh yeah, I forgot… and a chance to win a lucrative scholarship!

robot competition

Such an activity is a high school robotics competition, the topic of a story by Scott Huddleston about kids at Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas (Lee students rule in robotics).

While other kids were hanging out at the mall or getting in their daily seven hours of entertainment media screen time, these students were working as teams to create robots designed to perform specific tasks. The Lee students did so well in a recent local competition they were chosen to compete at the state level.

I’ve written many times about the limited window of opportunity for teens to exercise the prefrontal cortex – a “use it or lose it” race against time that every adolescent who ever lived has run, even if they weren’t aware of it. Those who exercise critical thinking and problem solving the most end up with the most expansive platform at the end of adolescence. The unused brain cells in the prefrontal cortex gradually are eliminated. It’s actually pretty easy for a kid to go through adolescence without doing much critical thinking, and the permanent consequence is a lifetime of limited intellectual capacity.

Yes, for a parent, this ought to be a scary thought. After all, what can a young person with limited intellect accomplish in life? Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen plenty of young people like this, and lots of older people who when they were young wasted this amazing developmental opportunity.

Parents can do something about it. The idea is to put kids in situations where they have to think for themselves. There are lots of ways to do this, and one of them is to get their child involved in mentally stimulating activities, such as chess, a challenging hobby, an entrepreneurial venture, 4-H or an internship. Does your kid’s school have a competitive robotics program? Check it out!

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One Response to Build a Bot, Train a Brain

  1. Nick Phillips says:

    Hi, great article. My 16 year old son is a PM on his schools “build a plane” project. The school, North East Academy, in Wolverhampton in the UK have bought a model from Beoing at a cost of approximately £50k. It’s a 2 seater and will actually fly! They have volunteers from the aircraft industry to assist, but ultimately, the plane will fly from their school, to a local airport. This will take about 2 years to complete.
    It will then be sold to fund another model. Cool idea I think, my son is so engaged. I am really proud of his achievement!

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