Category Archives: Core Values


Any coach knows that you put a lot of time into helping your team prepare.  I try to let my team set their own agenda for meetings, while I nudge them in the right direction and remind them of time constraints.  One exception is core values activities. I need to prepare the practice challenges in advance, without the help of the team, so they get the experience of dealing with an unfamiliar task without any notice.  I love this activity, which I call Staying Aloft, because no prep is required.  That makes my life as a coach easier.


1 square of toilet paper

None required

Instructions to the team:
Here is a square of toilet paper. See how long you can keep it in the air by blowing it. You are not allowed to touch the square; you can only use your breath.

This game encourages teamwork and cooperation – but mainly, it’s just a fun thing for the team to do. Ask team members if they find it easier to focus on the FLL challenge after taking a short break. Does working together to keep the square of toilet paper aloft make it easier for them to work together on the challenge, too?



Help your team get ready to program their NXT or EV3 robot by “programming” a fellow team member to complete an obstacle course.

Your choice of anything to create an obstacle course! Ideas include:
Hula hoops
Tennis balls
Wood planks

Prepare an indoor or outdoor obstacle course for the team, with a mix of barriers to navigate and tasks to do. Your course might require that someone step over a string staked a few inches from the ground, drop a ball in a cup, navigate across a wooden plank, pick up an object, step through a ladder laid flat, and toss a beanbag into a bucket. Do not let the team members see the course until they are ready to start the game.

Instructions to the team:
You will be “programming” a robot to navigate an obstacle course. Choose one team member to act as the robot. This person will be blindfolded, so the only way they can get through the course is by following your precise instructions. You will have 2 minutes to view the course and discuss your strategy. The “robot” will not be part of this discussion.

Make sure that an adult coach or mentor or older team member stays close to the “robot” at all times to keep them from harm. For example, if the robot is programmed to move forward, expect them to continue moving forward until programmed to stop – so you may need to step in to make sure they do not hit a wall or walk into a street.

This game helps teach the team the importance of clearly and exactly communicating what the robot must do. Make sure the team understands how this game relates to programming for the FLL robot game. Having the robot teammate blindfolded prevents them from offering help or using their own initiative to navigate obstacles – just like the Mindstorms robot will only do what it is programmed to do.



Do your team members listen to you? Do they listen to each other? I like this twist on an old party game that tests a team’s listening skills. It’s very easy for someone to assume they know the rules and race ahead trying to solve the problem of how to win, only to find out later that they missed the point.

Enough chairs for every member of the team
Music player (smartphone, MP3 player, radio … anything that can be quickly started and stopped)
Place the chairs in a circle, facing outward. If you don’t have space for a circle, place the chairs back-to-back in two lines.

Instructions to the team:
You will be playing a game of musical chairs. While the music plays, walk in a circle around the chairs. The objective is to get everyone on the chairs as soon as the music stops.  (Note: it’s very important that you state this objective exactly).

The game:
Start the music and let the team members circle the chairs. Stop the music – each team member should find a chair and sit down. Remove one chair and start the music again. See what happens when you stop the music this time:

(a) If the team members each claim a chair for themselves, leaving one person “out,” you can repeat the instructions, or let the game continue until there is only one chair left and one person who will claim to be the “winner” of the game. At that point, you can ask the team whether they satisfied the objective.

(b) If the team figures out that the objective is for all team members to cooperate so everyone can get on a chair, continue the game so they can explore how to work together to get multiple people on one chair.

It’s easy for the kids to jump to the conclusion that they already know how to play the game. How long did it take for the team to figure out that the objective was to get everyone on a chair, rather than for each individual to try to claim a chair while leaving out other kids? Did they need prompting from an adult coach or mentor to reach this conclusion? Encourage them to use this lesson as the season continues. Are they taking the time to really listen to each other (and to you)? Or can they identify times they rushed ahead and wasted time chasing something that wasn’t their true objective?



Last week, we asked teams to build the longest bridge possible. This week, ask them to build the strongest bridge. Change the construction materials so that teams must come up with a new design, rather than simply replicating last week’s bridge.

1 3-foot piece of string
15 paper clips
6 straws
2 index cards
5 marshmallows
1 12-inch piece of masking tape
2 bricks (for bridge towers)
Scissors (for use in construction only)
Dried beans (for weights only)

Set up 2 bricks on a table. Lay out all other construction materials so they are clearly visible.

Instructions to the team:
You have 7 minutes to build a bridge between two bricks. Your bridge must hold as many beans as possible. You may use the scissors to modify the construction materials, but the scissors cannot be part of the bridge. At the end of the building period, you will place the beans, one at a time, on to the bridge, counting how many beans the bridge can hold before it collapses or the beans spill.

Did the team decide to use a planning period, or did they immediately start construction? How was this bridge different than the “longest bridge” built last week? Did last week’s experience make this week’s task easier or harder?

Combine this “strongest bridge” activity with last week’s “longest bridge” activity. Choose one set of construction materials, and have the team build one bridge, then the other. What was different about the two construction projects? What was the same? Were there also changes in the team’s decision-making process or teamwork?


First Lego League Core Values Challenge: The Longest Bridge

This challenge uses common household items, but because the list is fairly long, make sure to gather all items in advance.

2 12-inch pieces of string
15 paper clips
4 straws
1 8×12 sheet of paper
4 index cards
20 toothpicks
6 pieces of dry spaghetti
5 marshmallows
10 pieces of tape
2 bricks (for bridge towers)
Yardstick or measuring tape (for measuring purposes only, not for construction)

Set up 2 bricks on a table. Tear off 10 pieces of tape and stick them to the side of the table. Lay out all other construction materials so they are clearly visible – for example, the team should be able to see that there are 15 paper clips, not just a small pile of paper clips.

Instructions to the team:
You have 2 minutes to think (during which you cannot touch any construction materials) and then 5 minutes to build a bridge with the longest possible span. The two bricks will serve as bridge towers and may be moved to any position you choose.

How did the team use the 2-minute planning period? Did the team come up with an effective plan, and were they able to follow it during the construction period? If a future challenge does not explicitly include a planning period, does the team want to use some challenge time just for planning?

FLL Trash Trek kits are shipping

Mission Model Building Instructions

Mission Model Building Instructions for the 2015/2016 TRASH TREK season will be available on August 25 at 12pm ET in conjunction with the Challenge release.

How do I build the Mission Models?!

  1. Sort the LEGO element bags (found in your Field Setup box) by bag number. They are labeled 1-10.
  2. Match the bag numbers with the corresponding bag numbers below. Note that there are English, French, and non-verbal versions of the building instructions. You only need to pick one.
  3. Open the correct pdf files and have an awesome time assembling the models. We strongly recommend opening one set of bags at a time so elements are not mixed up.
  4. Once all models are assembled, go to the Challenge page to assemble the field and find out what the missions are.
  5. Have fun!

Missing LEGO elements?

  • Visit, identify missing element(s), and order.
  • Or call 1-800-422-5346 and a rep should be able to help. Team must mention FIRST LEGO League.

– See more at:


Robot Nerd Blind Challenge – Core Values Challenge Activity

We did a fun core values challenge, I’m calling it Robot Nerd Blind Challenge.  The challenge is to draw a picture based on descriptions.  It enforces team collaboration and teamwork.

The team had to select three people to be the eyes and the rest of the team would be the hands.  They eyes could view, describe and act out the picture but could not see what the team was drawing.  The hands could not see the source image and had to draw based on the eyes descriptions and actions.  They had 5 minutes.

Here is the source (eyes) image and what the hands drew.  It was a very fun challenge and the team learned some valuable lessons.   I was impressed with how they acted it out, which is why I select three eyes to see if they would pick up on this approach.  They learned to listen before acting and that each person needs a role.

If you want to try this with your team, here is a pdf download of the source image – StartingPointsDancingRobotNerds.

2014-09-26 21.05.462014-09-26 21.05.53












Robot Nerds Needed

robotnerd1, a web application to simplify planning, organizing and sharing for robotics teams is looking for beta users.

To qualify for a free Robot Nerd T-shirt or sticker, participate in our private StartingPoints beta.   Email and include your team name and location.



Duct Tape Team Building

For core values and some fun meeting activities, check out Duct Tape Team Building.  It is available at Amazon and even for Kindle at

I purchased this book last year and ended up using for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and FLL.  It is a great resource for team work activities and all you need is a roll of duct tape.

One of my favorite activities is “Ain’t no flies on me’.  This game does a great job of teaching win-win and co-opertition.

Here are some more Team Building Activities,



Everyone’s robot is consistent

On Sunday, I was a technical judge for Division II.  If you are a coach, you should judge.  It is a fun learning experience and a great way to help FIRST.   It is one of my favorite components of FLL.  You will be amazed by these kids and the contrast between teams.

What I found funny was when a team had a mission that did not work, you would hear “That never happens.”  My co-judge and I both noticed this trend.  It happened almost every time a mission did not work.  We kept a straight face and reminded the team that the board is not set to competition standards.  We wanted to lift them up.

What I found disappointing was that my 14 year old son who was volunteering and working the pit had to breakup an argument between two coaches about who had the practice table. As a judge, I cannot discuss what happens in the judging room but I will tell you that acts that do not represent gracious professionalism can impact your team.  Parents and coaches are expected to demonstrate core values and gracious professionalism.

Even with the negative situation, my son did find inspiration from a rookie team.   He would not stop talking about them and had a great time interacting with them and their coach.  It started with a simple act, putting up tables.   The tournament was finishing up and he was helping reset the school.  This team started helping without being asked.  You would be surprised how many teams sit and watch volunteers do the work.  This simple act inspired my son.

This Sunday, I will be helping referee. I cannot judge because of conflicts and it gives me an excuse to get a silly hat.  Turns out three Division I teams are from our elementary school and I have helped mentor one of the Division II teams. I was planning on taking the weekend off from FLL but my son really wanted to volunteer and talked me into it.  My daughter wanted to volunteer but I played the 13 and older card.  What is cool is I have three Code Crackers volunteering,  They are not looking for an advantage, they really want to do it.  One of the team member’s email response was,  “I would really like to do that!  Count me in.”  My teams takes core values serious and working a tournament without the stress of competing is fun.   We could have left after judging but we stayed for closing.  It is great to see the reactions of teams, especially a rookie team that has the highest score.

There are many opportunities in FIRST.  Volunteering at a tournament is very rewarding and every coach should do it!




They dropped the robot!

On Friday afternoon, I walk in from work to see four Code Crackers team members around the table and the robot in pieces.  This was not a peaceful experience for me.

Our teams have a concept called Open Table.  It is times with team members can get together to catch up or get ahead outside of planned meetings.  These meetings are youth led and managed, I don’t even attend but will check in if I am around.

After getting through the shock of the robot in pieces, I asked what is going on.  Turns out one of the youth was pulling the robot out of it storage case and dropped it.  He was unaware it was connected to the charging cable and it slipped out of his hand.  After the dropped, the robot was fine but one of the motors was not working.  I don’t have the full picture of how this happened but it did.

The next logical step for the team was to replace the motor, hence the robot being in pieces on the table.  I was frustrated at first.  How this happened made no sense to me.  I got even more frustrated when I used another robot to test the motor to find it worked just fine.  The boys where also frustrated.  I started asking questions, did you test the connections?  Did you try a new cable?  Why didn’t you call me?  Seeing they were feeding off my emotions, I realized I needed to take a deep breath and calm down.

After calming down, I realized they did the right thing,s which made me proud.   I don’t think they tested the connections and suspect it was a loose or bad cable.  When it was dropped, everyone was called in the room.  Two were working on research.  They did some trouble shooting and came to conclusion it was a bad motor.  Before replacing the motor, they took lots of pictures so they could rebuild the robot after they took it apart.  The robot works and they finished up their program.  

I taught them the Capital Girl’s Kiddycat rule, when you handle the robot, hold it like a cat. One hand under the robot and another holding the robot.  I also apologized for my emotions.  I did not loose my cool but you could tell I was frustrated with them.  I told the youth that dropped the robot that from now on, he is the person who should handle the robot.  He knows what can happened and will take the precautions so it does not happen again.

We did not take a picture of the robot in pieces.  After the experience, I wished we had.  The featured image is from Sunday.  I was burned out from a Girl Scout camp out and had the boys work on their own.  When I came downstairs to check on them, I discovered my son had taped a blanket to the wall to block the sun.  It was interfering with their sensors.  When the tape did not work, he used my wood claps.  I admire their innovation and luckily for my son, the tape did not mess up the walls.

I felt guilty about my first reaction.  I do think it was an accident but at first I thought they were playing around and dropped it.   I know how much time they have spent and what this season means to them.  This is their last FLL year, they really want to do well and are putting in the time and energy to be very competitive.  To have it collapse two weeks before tournament would be a terrible thing.  In the end, I think it was a great experience for them and for me.  Yes, they missed the fact it was most likely as simple as a connection or cable but they did the right things.  They documented the robot and worked together to figure out. They showed their independence, team work and core values, which is what it is all about.






Don’t Touch the Table!

We have a rule, Don’t Touch the Table!  It applies when the robot is running so no one bumps the table and throws off a run.  I should follow this rule.  Last week, I noticed a flaw in our table design, some nails were starting to pop up.  Simple to fix, pull out all the nails and use some liquid nails.  Out table is a light weight table, thin backing board supported by some stiffeners.  Saturday morning, fixed the table.

Saturday afternoon at the Code Crackers practice I noticed the robot looked like it was a roller coaster, bobbing up and down hills as it moved.  That’s strange, why would it do that?

Then it gets more interesting, the robot would pivot in some areas and not others.  Must be something wrong with the robot.  Must be friction from the mat!  

Sunday at the Capital Girl’s practice, I noticed other strange things.  Sometimes the robot would make this strange sound, like the motors were dragging.  After this sound discovery it became apparent, the board had very small chasms between the stiffening boards.  Not enough to notice when looking at it but enough that the light sensors would drag and create all kinds of friction and inconsistencies.

Needless to say, I spent Columbus Day building a new table.  Good news is all the programs work and consistency is back.  So remember the rule, “Don’t Touch the Table”.

Team 3455 Foothill Lego Lovers Core Values Poster

Core Values Poster

badge_CoreValuesFor Core Values, consider having your team make a Core Values Poster.  This can be a fun and rewarding activity.   It is a not a requirement but helps the team articulate to the judges how they embraced core values for the season.  For the core values session, take the post in for display.  Most likely the judges will look at it during the challenge or after the challenge.   Use the poster to show how the team exhibited core values.  It is a also a great memory aid for the team.

To create a Core Values poster, download the Core Values Poster Guide.   Have the team populate the bullets points under each section.  Using a guide, poster board or tri-fold and pictures, create a Core Values Poster.  Label each section, list the bullet points and use pictures that pertain to the bullets.   Let the kids get creative.   If you are in Girl Scouts, think of a Thinking Day Poster.  It should take the team between 1 and 2 hours.  You can break this up, one meeting to answer the questions and then another meeting to create the poster.  This allows time for pictures to be printed that illustrate the points the team wants to share.  You can also have an individual team member work on the poster.  It is also a great opportunity to get another team parent involved, ask them to facilitate the poster meeting.


We Have Fun!

In reading some list serve threads about allowing 4 motors, I was reminded of one of my favorite core values,  “We have fun.”  I can say this for both my teams, we have fun.   Robots are inconsistent, so you have to take FLL with a have fun attitude.  The image above is the Capital Girls doing The Sid Shuffle.  My daughter’s teacher showed this to her when studying continental shifts and she introduced it at our first team meeting.  We do it every meeting,  it is a great meeting break or end of meeting activity.   The love doing it.

cc_floodcity cc_hammer The Code Crackers have discovered Lego Commander, a Lego app that makes the EV3 a remote controlled robot using an IPad or Android and Bluetooth.  They start most meetings doing remote controlled robots and they have fun.  They had a blast building flood city, their prototype for their research project.   They even got to play with power tools.  Note, safety goggles where in use and safety was the top priority.   I am happy to report no injuries.  It did take them a couple tries to get a square box, nailing is something they are still mastering. I’ll give them credit, after assembling the non-square box, they used a square to ensure it was right the second time.  Something I would not have thought of and I own two squares.


Photo Square Challenge – You should see the smiles!

This year is very different, the Code Crackers are self managing and are very focused. The Capital Girls are very relaxed and are bringing concepts to missions that shows their experience.   There is a “We have fun” value that both teams share.

Capital Girls Too Drop Test

Boy Scout and Girl Scout Methods

I am a Scout Master for Boy Scouts and a Troop Leader for Girl Scouts.  Several members on my teams are also in my scout troops, which is great because I can just hold up the Scout Sign and get everyone’s attention.  These organizations have been helping develop youth for over 100 years, so I thought, what can I borrow from scouting for First Lego League?

Three things come to mind, badges, closing circle and the EDGE method.



Both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have a badge reward system.  Boy Scouts have over 100 merit badges, including robotics.  You have to earn certain merit badges to get Eagle.  Girl Scouts have different badges for each membership level.  The badge reward system works. I developed badges for First Lego League and am trying it with the Capital Girls.   So far, the results have been encouraging. I use the badges to recognize team contribution and more importantly, to encourage team members to learn and try new things.   I think we have about 30 badges. For example, you can earn a line following or wall squaring badge. Because they want to earn badges, they take the time to learn about a concept.  When they are doing run strategy, they figure out how to apply a badge concept like wall or line squaring.  The badges are not just robot focused, they also cover project and core values.  My two favorites are Team Spirit and Supporter.  Theses are badges any team member can award to another team member and there is no limit to how many you can earn.  If someone encourages a team member, they tend to get a supporter badge.  If some has a really positive attitude, the often receive a Team Spirit badge.  Once a team member earns a badge, they stick it on the back of their team notebook.  Download our team badges and requirements to learn more.  

Closing Circle

corevaluesbuttonIn Girl Scouts, we do a closing circle at the end of each meeting.  The girls cross their arms and holds hands.  One person starts, squeezing the person’s hand on the right.  When your hand is squeezed, you stick you right foot forward and squeeze the hand on the right.  When it gets to the last person, they say something they liked about the activity and then everyone spins out of the circle.

In my Boy Scout Troop, everyone crosses their arms and does the Scout Blessing, “May the great Master of all Scouts be with us ’til we meet again, be prepared.”

For Robotics, I adapted the closing circle from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  We call it a confidence circle.  The team gets in a circle and each team member must say something positive about the person to their right.  The positive comment has to be related to the meeting or activity, not “I like your hair”.  Once the circle completes, we reverse the direction if we have time.  I sometimes make the team switch around so people are not always next to the same people.  When I first started this, the girls really struggled with giving a word of encouragement.  It was not something they were used to doing.  Now, they are instant and meaningful. The real purpose of the circle is to have them lift each other up and focus on the positive.   I was touched at our last meeting when they did an impromptu group hug.

EDGE Method

The EDGE method is a Boy Scout concept for experiential learning, or “learning by doing”.

Explain how it is done – Tell them

Demonstrate the steps – Show them

Guide learners as they practice – Watch them do it

Enable them to succeed on their own – Use memory aids, practice it, they teach it


We start with EDGE in the summer months, doing challenges like the SUMO Challenge, to help the youth understand sensors and to develop advanced programming flow.  Once we get into the season, we use EDGE as part of Robot Design and programming, the team does several experiments, like what wheel size is the fastest.  Once the team has a base robot, we do robot test or field mat challenges that leverage EDGE. The drop test is the youth’s favorite.  Hold the robot 3 feet, then drop it.  Then, 6 feet.  Takes lots of pictures before the drop test.  This teaches the kids about solid robot design.  See Robot Design and Program Team Notebook section for some of the EDGE exercises.  To enable, we use badges and a series of reference posters (Program Flow, Line Following) on the wall that are used as memory aid.  We also have each youth teach the rest of the team what they learned when they figure out  a new concept.


Duct Tape Team Building Games

It is true, there is no limited to what you can do with duct tape.  Given all the uses for duct tape, why not use it for core values.  Easy to carry for when you need a quick core values challenge.

The challenge pictured is “Consensus Loop” and is being performed by the Code Crackers.  I also did this with the Capital Girls.  Both teams loved it.  The objective: in 5 minutes, determine which of the duct tape loops is holding the other four without touching the loops. Setup is easy, start with a strip of duct tape, about 30 inches long.  Fold in half crosswise to make a long narrow strip, and connect the ends to form a loop.  You do this four more times and when you make the fifth circle, connect all the circles. Throw the bundle of loops on the floor or table to start.  When the team has an answer, they pick up the selected loop to see if they got it right.  It is harder than it looks.

This game develops problem solving, conflict management and compromise.

To find more team duct tape building games, check out Tom Heck’s book Duct Tape Teambuilding Games — 50 Fun Activities to Help Your Team Stick Together.

Core Values Practice Challenge: Egg Drop

eggdropSince my Capital Girls Team is composed of many of my Girl Scout troop members, sometimes we get to double dip on activities.

At the Spring Encampment, several of the girls did the egg drop challenge.  The goal is to build a device that will keep a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the deck.

The girls were supplied with painter’s tape, newspaper, plastic grocery bags, string and toilet paper rolls to build an egg protection device. They had a time limit for building.

The parachute concept was very popular and effective.

If you are looking for a good core values practice challenge, this one is fun.