FIRST and the sports model – is it getting out of hand?

Dean Kamen’s vision for FIRST is simple to state:

To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.

Simple to state, but not nearly so simple to achieve.

The FIRST organization have chosen to use the sports model as the basis of their programs, as shown in the image to the right. Of course, many of the most celebrated people today are athletes, and much of the K12 experience here in the US revolves around athletics.

If you heard his kickoff speech for this year’s game, though, you know that Dean is becoming frustrated with how this model is working out, with the focus for many individuals and teams becoming the winning, not the competition itself. Or, in the terminology of the folks at, these teams have moved from competition into decompetition.

In some ways, this is an inevitable evolution, the nature of professional sports (which, in my mind, includes college sports) in which the intrinsic motivation of young athletes with a love of the game transforms into the extrinsic motivation of the rewards of victory.

What do you think? Is the sports model getting out of hand and need to be changed? Or does it just need to be “tweaked” a bit.

2 thoughts on “FIRST and the sports model – is it getting out of hand?

  1. I think the sports model should be junked. By trying to make science something it isn’t (sports) you relegate science to less than that thing (sports). If you want kids to be involved, then you have to get them to accept science on its own merit.

    Having recently helped my daughter with her science fair project, I would say a strong half of the battle would be working on who is teaching science today. If it is taught as a monotonous bore, then kids will see it as a monotonous bore.


  2. Julie,

    The great thing about FIRST is that it isn’t “taught” so much as it is experienced. Since it is outside the main curriculum at most schools, the learners – the students – are the ones that determine what it is they think they need to learn. Then they go and learn it. Adult mentors are there to help the process along, but not there to teach what they think needs to be taught.

    The problem with the sports model, with its inevitable focus on winning, is that it tempts the teams to stifle their creativity in favor of a “known” approach that will guarantee success.


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