Just to prove we’re gluttons for punishment, the Mrs. and I decided to fill up the remaining voids in our shared Google calendar by signing our kids up for:
- Dance (2 children)
- Swimming (1 child)
- Gymnastics (1 child)
- Boy Scouts (3 children)
- Soccer (3 children)
- Traveling Volleyball (1 child)
- Basketball (1 child) AND…
- LEGO® LEAGUE!!! … (3 children)
Tomorrow’s innovators practice imaginative thinking and teamwork. Guided by adult Coaches, FIRST LEGO® League teams research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, program a robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology, then compete on a table-top playing field.
It all adds up to tons of fun while they learn to apply science, technology, engineering, and math concepts (STEM), plus a big dose of imagination, to solve a problem. Along their discovery journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, basic STEM applications, and even presentation skills, as they must present their solutions with a dash of creativity to judges. They also practice the Program’s signature Core Values.
Long story, short… It’s awesome. That’s what it is.
Just ask will.i.am. This year, his i.am.angel organization donated two hundred LEGO® kits in order to help expand the First LEGO® League program in Boyle Heights, east Los Angeles.
Each year First LEGO® League releases a challenge, which is based on a real-world scientific topic. This year the 255,000+ participants are focusing on our “Animal Allies”. Each of the 28,000+ teams will be working on projects that:
- Identify a problem scenario where people and animals interact
- Design a solution that makes the interaction better for animals, people or both then…
- Share the problem and solution with others
Our team (I say our team even though I’m just a mentor, not an actual coach) is made up of about 10 kids in grades 4,5 & 6 who decided to create a project on Service Animals. Specifically, animals that partake in Reading Therapy sessions with children.
Reading Therapy works both ways. For the child who’s afraid they’ll be laughed at by their peers when their stutter or fumbling of words makes it hard for them to get through a paragraph, these animals make for fantastic, and safe, reading buddies.
While there are animals trained specifically to partake in Reading Therapy, shelter animals work just as well and can actually benefit from the experience. In the kids’ research, they came across stories where abused animals (you know… The ones that are hard to find new homes for because of their skittishness around people. The ones who are frequently put down…) actually started warming back up to people after just four weeks of being read to.
Kids reading to animals (trained or otherwise) is a fantastically, mutually beneficial, experience. So what’s the problem you ask? Scheduling. Scheduling is a huge problem.
As it is, most places are currently taking Reading Therapy appointments via the phone or when people physically stop by. The details of these appointments are often stored in large, three-ring binders. (Anybody that’s seen the video of my Dreamforce ’16 sessions knows how I feel about that one!) That means appointments can only be made during business hours which, for many public libraries and animal shelters, aren’t all that regular. Mid-afternoons and weekends are pretty common time frames. Anybody that can’t stop by or make a phone call while people are around to schedule appointments, are by default scheduled out of being eligible to participate.
While some libraries with Reading Therapy programs have online scheduling available to them… the software isn’t free and many are slow to adopt the technology. It was the same story from the animal shelters the kids contacted. If only there was a free way to allow people to sign up for these (free) therapy sessions, regardless of the hour at which they find themselves able to get something scheduled.
This is the part of the story where a geeky LEGO® League mentor suggested the children investigate re-purposing solutions and learning a bit about a thing called Salesforce.com.
With six weeks to go before their first tournament, the team figured out they needed three things:
- To figure out which pre-existing (free) scheduling solution was flexible and stable enough to be able to re-purpose into something that would fit their needs.
- To figure out how to report on reading sessions and send out text and email reminders to: facility employees, animal handlers and (of course) readers
- To figure out how to demonstrate their solutions for as many people and venues as possible before their first tournament on December, 10th!
This may come as a complete shock to some of you, but (with a little encouragement) Salesforce ended up playing a role in their final solution.
In a nutshell… Here’s what their system looks like:
I love WordPress. It’s simple, quick and allowed the kids to setup a small site in next to no time at all. So far the team’s used this site to deliver several presentations to elementary school classes and public libraries!
Reminders & Reporting: Salesforce.com
Once scheduling information is collected, the scheduling solution the kids are using pushes the information into Salesforce.com. While a Dev org is being used for demoing email and text reminders and reporting, Salesforce.com makes it REALLY cost effective for implementing long-term solutions for non-profits. From what I understand, 501(c)3 organizations are eligible to receive up to 10 free licenses as part of Salesforce’s 1-1-1 pledge.
While there are TONs of scheduling solutions out there, none seemed to have the reliability, speed and flexibility that Eventbrite offers… for free! To utilize their solution, Reading Therapy Sessions became Events, Readers became Attendees. So long as the “tickets” being issued for Events are free, so is the use of Eventbrite!
While the kids did the majority of the work, there were a couple of tricky situations that needed some troubleshooting. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be writing about how the kids made use of and customized WordPress, Salesforce and Eventbrite in order to provide a scheduling solution that’s available to ANYBODY FOR FREE!