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September 2009

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From:
Michael Blanpied <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Michael Blanpied <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Wed, 16 Sep 2009 09:27:30 -0700
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At 10:35 AM -0400 9/14/09, Karen McSweeney Contreras wrote:
>This is a general question for the LL community: 
>This is my fourth year coaching a LL team (two 
>as JFLL, second as FLL).  This year, I have six 
>6th grade boys.  They are at varying stages of 
>focusing abilities and interest in the tasks at 
>hand.  (Typical boys of their age!.)  Any 
>suggestions on how to get the most out of the 
>season?  Last year, we used 3 'bots and three 
>lap tops and that seemed to be too 
>all-over-the-place.  I am going to try 2 'bots 
>and '2 laptops this year (then we combine 
>everything into 1 'bot).  Any thoughts on how to 
>divide kids/tasks/etc?

I'm guessing that most coaches have struggled 
with this set of issues:  keeping the group of 
varying personalities and abilities engaged and 
focused, and achieving an appropriate balance 
between work on the robot and the 
research/presentation. You're ahead of the curve 
if your team members are largely the same from 
year to year, as you know their individual 
personalities and strengths, and know which 
combinations of kids work well together. In three 
years of work with an FLL team, my fellow coaches 
and I had at least some success with some of 
these strategies:

- Structured meetings. We broke each team meeting 
into time blocks that were announced at the 
start. For example, a block of free robot time 
(energy dissipation), then a block of group 
brainstorming or discussion (while brains are 
fresh), then a block of time on the research 
project or presentation, then a snack, then work 
on the robot missions and programming.

- Ancillary meetings. Last year the robot table 
and team meetings were in my house, and that gave 
me the opportunity to have additional times 
during the week when just a few team members 
could come and work. This usually meant robot 
work, and usually could proceed with only a 
modest amount of my involvement (depending on 
which kids were there). One caveat is that this 
required note-taking so that the rest of the team 
would be aware of what had been accomplished. 
Occasionally just one team member would show up, 
a great occasion for me to spend some one-on-one 
time to teach some new programming skill without 
distraction.

- Identical robots. We had the luxury of multiple 
NXT kits (owned by some of the members). Once the 
team agreed on a robot model, they made two 
identical clones, which allowed groups of two or 
three work on a particular mission without the 
rest of the team getting impatient or jealous. 
Like Frank's team, ours worked in groups of 
(usually) two, each of which had ownership of a 
particular set of related missions. This required 
multiple computers, and some discipline in 
keeping track of which was the "official" version 
of a program.
   (Re. Phil's comment, it was a challenge to get 
some of the boys interested in working on the 
research, and a challenge to get the girls to 
speak up about their interest in working on the 
robot despite being willing to do the researchy 
stuff. What helped last year was that the 
research project involved poop, and the 
presentation involved making a video, both of 
which were appealing to the boys!)

Having learned the hard way, I recommend leaving 
-plenty- of time before the regional tournament 
for creating and practicing the presentation, and 
for choreographing and practicing the 2.5-minute 
robot game. Once they start running through 
those, the team will be full of ideas on how to 
do things faster, better, different, and you'll 
want enough time for them to work through it all, 
so that the team can arrive at the tournament 
feeling prepared and confident.

-- 
Cheers,
Mike Blanpied
Reston, VA
2006 #4809 Nano People
2007 #1666 Power Bunnies
2008 #5013 BLT--Brilliant LEGO Team

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