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October 2008


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Michael Blanpied <[log in to unmask]>
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Michael Blanpied <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 14 Oct 2008 12:33:28 -0400
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>On Tue, Oct 14, 2008 at 11:14 AM, Sarah Brown 
><[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>  Hi everyone,
>>  This is my first time coach and I am feeling a little lost!  It was a last
>>  minute decision to get a group of students together and compete this year
>>  in FLL.  Seeing as how the competition is in November, I'm starting to
>>  feel the pressure!  Any suggestions???  We have met about 3 times and the
>>  students have a working robot with the NXT kit.  I have some questions if
>>  anyone can help me!
>>  1.  Do the NXT Robots have to be built a specific way for competition?  Or
>>  is it up to students how they build it?
>>  2.  With the climate missions this year, do you compile 1 program that the
>>  robot is designed to do ALL Missions within taht ONE program?  Or can you
>>  do a series of programs to accomplish the missions?
>>  3.  I know I have a lot of reading and researching to do but is there
>>  something someone would suggest as a starting point?
>>  Any help would be SO appreciated!!!
>>  Thanks!!!
>>  Sarah


You are dealing with a time crunch and a steep learning curve at this 
point, but do take solace in the assurance that no matter how 
inexperienced and far behind you and your team may be, there are 
others more so! :)

Robert Haskins had good answers. My off-the-top-of-my-head advice is:

- Read the FLL coaching guide (that came with the field model kit) 
from cover to cover. It will give you the lay of the land in terms of 
the requirements, your role as coach, how to manage the team, and 
what to expect at the tournament.

- Remember that it's about fun and learning, not winning. You'll 
facilitate both, and they'll have a good time at the tournament, if 
you keep them focused and work with them to set reasonable, 
achievable goals in terms of robot work and research 

- Map out the rest of the short season in terms of meeting times and 
milestones. Talk with the parents to find out when the kids can meet. 
You didn't say how big the team is, but if it's big, it may be 
effective to have a whole-team meeting once/week and some smaller 
gatherings at other times. Smaller gatherings are especially good if 
you have a rambunctious group and/or have just one robot to share 
among many kids. Make agendas before each meeting, review them with 
the team at the start of the meeting, and stick to them. It may be 
effective to have separate meetings about robot and research, or to 
divide a meeting (an hour on each, say), or to divide the kids so 
that some work on robot while others work on the project.

- Recruit the parents to help, in multiple ways:  Have at least one 
on hand to help work with the kids during meetings. Tell them about 
the kids' between-meeting action-items (e.g., looking up information, 
contacting an expert, plotting some data, designing a robot 
attachment) and get them to help the kids remember to do it. Have 
them bring snacks to the meetings. Have them make up t-shirts for the 
team. Have them work with kids on the research project or robot 
programming, if they have the aptitude.  The more the parents are 
engaged, the better things will turn out and the less stressed you'll 

- Many teams use the basic robot design that comes with the NXT kit, 
or modest adaptations of it. But the design is completely open-ended. 
Many missions can be solved without the use of sensors, though they 
may enjoy using the touch or light sensor. The NXT kit comes with 
simple examples that teach the use of these sensors. See also the 
excellent suite of examples called Robot Educator that are in the NXT 
programming software itself: click the Lego piece in the upper-right 
corner of the programming screen.

- If you have multiple NXT kids available, clone that robot (at least 
once) so that different pairs or trios of kids can work separately. 
Do a bit of simple programming on your own until you understand how 
to write a rudimentary program to make the robot drive around, so 
that you can coach them on programming.

- For the robot missions, choose a small number of the easiest ones 
and concentrate on those. The team may want to solve everything, but 
that's not realistic for a novice bunch starting late. It's better 
that they arrive at the tournament with a small number of missions 
that are nailed down, than a mish-mash that may fail in the clutch. 
Some of the easier missions include:  trigger the storm; push the 
nearest carbon ball into the reservoir; put the red/white and 
gray/blue people in their intended spots; move the bike, laptop and 
insulation to the green area; move the polar bear and snowmobile to 
the research area. Most teams have the robot leave Base several times 
to accomplish different things, and controls each excursion with a 
separate program. Those programs can be pretty simple; e.g., for a 
simple push-the-object mission, it might be just three or four Move 
blocks, the last one bringing the robot back to Base. Sometimes a 
different pair of kids will be in charge of each of those excursions, 
and will take turns standing at the table.

- Check YouTube for innumerable videos showing robots doing missions 
in prior FLL years (search for "first lego league" or "FLL". Some of 
them show wonder-robots that solve everything, and some are more 
modest. That will give you a sense of the logistics and dynamics of a 
match, and also the vast range of robot designs and mission-solving 
strategies that kids can dream up.

- Keep things organized. Keep backups of the programs, clean and set 
up the mission table at the end of each meeting, have the kids keep 
simple notes on the status of missions they're working on, and keep 
their attachments in a safe place. Reserving some time at the end of 
each meeting for clean-up and note-taking can help a lot. Plus they 
can show their binder of notes to the Project and Robot Design judges 
at the tournament.

- Keep the project and presentation simple. Identify a 
straightforward problem related to climate, one that interests them. 
Have them talk to an expert, brainstorm a solution, and think up a 
fun way to present it. Our team has chosen to do skits each year, but 
some do posters, some do 'newscasts', some do songs or dances. 
Anything goes so long as it involves the team, conveys the 
information, and takes no more than 5 minutes.

- If you aren't sure whether the kids are doing something 'legal' in 
how they're designing the robot, solving the missions, or doing their 
presentation, ask us.

Feel free to email or call if you want to chat or to bounce ideas.

Mike Blanpied
Reston, VA
2006 Nano People #4809
2007 Power Bunnies #1666
2008 {Name TBD} #5013

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