Category Archives: Project


FLL World Class Challenge Project Prototyping with Ardunio and NFC Shield

For the World Class Challenge, my girls decided on a question – How to improve the way someone learns a life skill with technology.  To explore the question, they met with experts and each had to learn a new life skill.   They learned how to sew a button, do laundry and even unclog a toilet.

With inspiration from the question, meetings with experts and the Orion story they selected to focus on using NFC technology to help someone learn new routines.  NFC is near field technology and is in most phones, including the new iPhone 6.

One night at dinner, I was telling the Orion story.  Orion uses NFC technology to automated many of his daily routines.  For example, his phone is his alarm and the only way to turn it off is to tap the NFC tag in his bathroom.  This requires him to get out of bed.  Once he taps the bathroom NFC, his phone guides is morning bathroom routine.  Reminding him to floss and brush his teeth.  Once in his car, he taps his car NFC and Google calculates his commute, turns on Pandora and turns off WIFI.  This story fascinate my daughter because it was cool.  At the meeting, she shared the story and the focus on NFC for learning life skills was born.

The team met with Orion and he educated them on NFC.  He also led a session on using the Ardunio  ( and how it could be used to build a NFC reader.   After a few weeks of playing and getting the extra parts they needed, they now have two prototypes.  A website and phone functionality that delivers content based on the NFC tag scanned.  This is used on backpacks and lockers to remember what to take to school and class.  I know my wife would appreciated this solution, there is nothing worse than getting the text asking her to bring my daughters lunch or instrument to school.

They also have a location-based tags as a concept.  You can tag a tag on the wall using your phone and the Tapit app (their solution) and you will be navigated to where you need to be in the school based on your current location and schedule.   Turns out many middle school students struggle learning their schedule and navigating the school at first.

To determine the school routines that created the most challenges for middle school students, they surveyed their friends.  They did verbal surveys and used a website I had not heard of, to collected student challenges.

They also surveyed over 20 teachers, asking how much time is lost taking attendance and due to tardies or people not having all their items for class.  I must say, the results of this survey were interesting.  On average, each class period losses 4 minutes of instructional time due to tardies and students not being prepared for class.  This is 8 hours per student per month.  I know the survey was not on a large scale or scientific but kids lose a day a month due to poor school routines.

Even through it is not associated with their question, the team wanted to look at automating collecting attendance with NFC.  Based on their teacher survey, it takes about 2 minutes on average per period to take attendance.  To automate attendance, they built a NFC reader prototype using the Ardunio.  It currently reads the NFC card and displays the person’s name and plays a note.  It is currently not linked to the internet but could be.  I think this is one of the coolest prototypes they have done and I may encourage them to do a Kick Starter Campaign.  I loved the fact that the logic they use for programming their robot (loops, logic and switches) is what they used to program the Ardunio.  As I told them, the programming concepts they use for their robot are universal and it is nice to have a reference that backups this point.



Team Collaboration

My team the Capital Teens, a Division II team based in Herndon, VA is looking for a team outside the US to collaborate with on World Class Challenge.  We want to expand our cultural perspective.   Just a call via skype or facetime to discuss the cultural educational differences in August or September.

If you are interested, email me at


Yes, you have been corresponding with an 8th grader

Last week, the Code Crackers met with flood experts at the USGS.  This meeting was originally scheduled for Friday, October 4th but then the government shutdown happened.

What was great about this meeting is all I did was get a contact.  One of the mature team members actually did all the emails and copied me.  When we met the expert in the USGS lobby, she thought I was the person she had been corresponding with me.  I indicated that person she had been communicating with was this 8th grader.  Priceless.

This meeting enforced something for me, have your team solution before you meet with experts.  Sharing the team solution with experts is a great experience for the kids and is a practice judging session.  They get questions about cost, technology, who pays, etc.  It is great.  Ideally, you can meet to gather information and then meet again to share the solution.

Both the Capital Girls and Code Crackers shared their solution with experts this year and the information and experienced gained was very beneficial.  The Code Crackers learned they had a great innovation, their flood car barrier is self-rising, it does not rely on electricity. Electricity outages are very common in floods.  The Capital Girls gain great insight on existing solutions and implementation factors, like how much a search robot should cost and deployment size considerations.  This type of meeting also highlights what needs more consideration.  For example, when the Code Crackers where asked how much the flood barrier would cost, the team realized they had something to think about.  It is also created a coaching moment.  One team member said $7,000.  After the expert meeting with the team, I asked how did you come up with that cost number?  It gave me the opportunity to teach the lesson that you don’t have to have all the answers.  Instead of making something up, be honest.  Tell the person asking the question that you have not considered the cost.  Honesty always pays off.  


Research Project Coming to Life

After doing the research kick-off and narrowing the topic to flooding, I get an email from one of the Code Crackers.  He wanted to come over and share his project idea.  After talking with him via phone and learning he had a great concept, I asked him to email me.  Below is what he sent me.

IMG_0109  IMG_0112  IMG_0110  IMG_0111 IMG_0113  IMG_0114  IMG_0108  IMG_0107

Impressive right?  He is only in the 8th grade and conceived this idea. He even went as far as building a pneumatic prototype.  At our Thursday meeting, the boys came up with a plan to build a miniature Lego city and working flood barrier wall.  Guess who gets to go to the Lego store Saturday?  They had a blast testing it, see the video below.


Code Crackers Research Kickoff turned into a Sumo Challenge

The Code Crackers team hurt my feelings. I spent all this time creating this Nature’s Fury guide, and they just went in their own direction. In the end, their approach worked for them, and I got over it. They listed all the Nature’s Fury disasters they could think of, including going out-side the box with Solar Flares, Zombie Apocalypse and my favorite, Limnic Eruption. Using the process of elimination, they ended up on floods.

Once they were ready for a break, we decided to put their base robot to work.  I pulled out the Sumo Challenge Board and challenged them to find an object, push it out of the white ring without the robot going out of the ring.  Below is the video of a somewhat successful run.  The object was moved around and we had to keep legs out of the way.

Here is the program the team wrote. It did not work perfectly, but it gets the job done

Ultrasonic Following Program

Ultrasonic Following Program

Project Kick-off


To kick off the research part of the season, each team member completed pages 1-7 in the Project Section of the team notebook.  The excise is to guide individual preparation for a Nature’s Fury team discussion by completing a series of questions and exercises.


  • Research Project Exploration – a series of questions to identify the natural disaster interest and area of focus, preparing, staying safe or rebuilding .
  • Problem Identification – a matrix of natural disasters to brainstorm on problems related to preparing, preparing and staying safe.
  • Sources of Information – boxes for the team to list out where they found their Nature’s Fury information.
  • Project Expert Worksheet
  • Problem Analysis Questions
  • Existing Solutions Exploration

icon_pdfYou can download the project section here.