Sunday, May 25, 2014

Team X

Several years ago I got an opportunity to spend a week at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.  While I was there I worked with Kobie Boykins, an engineer on the Mars Rover and Tracy Drain, a solar panel engineer.  While working there we learned about Team X.  This is where projects start out.  When an engineer sketches something on the back of a napkin, they bring it to Team X.  Team X is made up of representatives from every component of a mission, science, funding, logistics, education, planning, engineering, etc.  The idea is presented and then torn apart.  The scientists want to send as much up as they can, the engineers understand the reality of weight requirements, and the funding people want to keep it as cheap as possible.  As I was sitting there I couldn’t help but think of how hard it would be to present an idea to Team X.  I asked Tracy if people got their feelings hurt by going through this process.  She said that didn’t really happen.  A lot of time mission ideas would come out of Team X looking significantly different but that once it had been through that process the overall mission is much stronger.  Everyone understand that ultimately everyone in the room is working toward making the strongest mission possible.  Wow, that to me is an amazing culture.  I’ve been in a lot of meetings where disagreeing with someone makes them think you don’t like them, which usually is no where near the truth.  

Since I’m on the idea of this culture, another episode that happened at JPL that has stayed with me was how everyone there is pulling in the same direction.  I was doing work for the JASON project which was creating a text book and filming us (me and three amazing students) as we worked with the engineers.  As we were working with Tracy, on camera, she had created a model of a solar panel deployment.  She had showed us how it worked before the cameras started rolling, then did it again on camera.  The second time I noticed that she had put a spring in the wrong place.  The solar panels did not deploy.  We had a crew filming us and I was really nervous about pointing this out, I mean, she is a rocket scientist.  Finally I did.  She was really excited and used it to point out a big principal at NASA.  It doesn’t matter who finds the mistake, the important thing is that the mistake is found.  Again, everyone is truly pulling in the same direction.  

How do you foster this climate of everyone pulling in the same direction toward a common goal.  How do you do it in your classroom, how about your school?

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