A few nights ago, ABC aired a special about FIRST just before prime time. It was produced by Will.i.am, the front man for the Black Eyed Peas.
I apologize for not announcing the special earlier because it is a big deal that a celebrity is getting involved to support and promote an educational program like FIRST. Especially in such a decent time slot. If you missed it, you can watch it in its entirety on Will.i.am’s web site.
In general, I liked the special. It came about because will.i.am called up Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, and told him how much of a fan he was. Dean eventually asked him to help promote the organization he founded, FIRST. He founded it 20 years ago and still no one really knows about it. I credit will.i.am for stepping up.
The special did a good job of giving the impression that science is cool. It profiled a few teams and focused on a few kids to show how FIRST changed their lives. I liked that one of the teams profiled was an all girls team and that most of the kids they showed weren’t your stereotypical geek. I especially liked the multitude of celebrities that took the time to talk about why they thought science was cool.
However, as a coach, mentor, and volunteer for FLL, I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t touch on our program at all. It’s great that they showed teenagers getting involved with science and technology, but we have to start younger than that. Kids are forming opinions about science and math at an early age and the sooner you get them interested, the better. Any kid in elementary school that might have seen the special now thinks they have to wait for high school before they can build and program robots.
The special did touch on FTC, the program between FLL and FRC, but the focus was on the big robots in FRC. They didn’t once mention that kids as young as 4th grade are building and programming robots. If you consider Jr. FLL, kids even younger than that are getting involved in FIRST.
I commend will.i.am for getting involved and for using his celebrity clout to get other celebrities on his show. The Black Eyed Peas performed at the FIRST championship in St. Louis this past May and I liked his statement on the show that there is a half time show for the Superbowl, so why shouldn’t there be a half time show for the Superbowl of science and technology? But showing three songs by the Black Eyed Peas and one by Willow Smith was too much. It came off a bit self-promotional. One, even two, songs would have sufficed. The time spent on the extra performances could have been spent on the other FIRST programs instead.
Overall, I think it was a good start. The show accomplished what it set out to do. It exposed the country to FIRST and hopefully got some teenagers and tweens interested in the program. As will.i.am continues his campaign, I hope he puts some focus on the younger kids and FLL.