Monthly Archives: November 2013

Robot Perspective

Seeing the camera comments in the robot game and update got me thinking how cool it would be to have a camera on the robot.  G, my son, rigged up a jig that held my iPhone in place on C’s red run attachment.  Above is the result.  Really cool!  How sad, my son told my daughter “Really Cool” is what old people say.  He also said I was old!


Breaks are Nice

This week, we have only had one meeting, a Capital Girls starting team practice. It is nice to have a slow week but we will pick up on Sunday when both teams meet. I did have my daughter and son practice their projects lines and my daughter did some run logging and tweaking. The truck run has not been consistent but after logging over 20 runs and making adjustments, C made adjustments that got it consistent.




Logical Thinking

Thursday night, the Code Crackers met and worked on the following in preparation for the VA/DC Championship:

  1. Expanding the solution section of their presentation based on the judge’s comments
  2. Reworking their prototype to illustrate some implementation considerations
  3. Adding logic to a program so if it does not detect the line, it knows how to recover

I know this might not be gracious professionalism but I am proud of the programming my teams do and how they solve problems.  I realized last night that they know how to solve problems with program logic.  They know the ins and outs of loops, switches, sensors and logic blocks but more importantly, they know how to think.  They not only program the robot to detect a line for navigation, they programmed in logic so the robot knows what to do when the line is not detected.

In one of their programs, the Code Crackers exit a loop when both color sensors detect a black line.  To do this, they use a logic block.  At their regional tournament, this only worked two out of four runs.  It always worked on our practice table and my guess is their color sensor is to high off the mat, something I did not share with them.   Their solution was to add in logic so the loop will exit even if the line is not detected.  I’ll share the program later but do not want to give away their innovation.

I credit their understanding of logic and problem solving skills to our program flow starting point poster and summer workshops where we do Master DJ, Mr. T and Sumo Challenge. These challenges can found in our Team Notebook Programming Section, available for download.





Hard Reset

What a great opportunity, the Code Crackers robot locked up when starting up before they walked into technical judging.  The Robot, Argo, was stuck in start up mode and they could not demonstrate any programs.

I was not in the room but just watched the video being taken by Brian, the 6th grader they adopted as their historian so he could have the FLL experience.  What excited me was they did not panic.  They just started talking about their robot and programs.  I applaud the judges, they were very supportive.

DSC_0629What started as a bad situation turned into a blessing. The team talked about the robot, walk through their runs and showed the print out of their programs.  I was very proud of how they handled this situation.   This is an advanced team, they have 7 sensors on their robot and even use the gyro.  Their robot is solid and they have some innovative attachments.  One of my favorite features is the wheel guard.  When they picked up loops, it was getting caught in the wheels.  They built a wheel guard.  I thought that was innovative.  I will share more about the teams robots and programs later.

In looking at the judging comments, they were considered for Robot Design.  It probably helped they had a high score in their runs, 358 was their high score and they won robot performance.

When I saw them after technical judging, they came running up saying something is wrong with the robot.  What do we do?  Being a geek, I knew there had to be a hard reset.  I can press the power button on my computer or two buttons on my iphone to hard reset.  I guessed, I pressed the center and left corner button.  It worked.  I know, I touched the robot. If this happens again, they will know what to do.  As a result, I did work with them to refresh the firmware.

Resetting the EV3 Brick (from EV3 Help)

“If your EV3 Brick suddenly stops working and cannot be shut down through the normal process, you will need to reset your EV3 Brick . Resetting the EV3 Brick does not delete existing files and projects from previous sessions in the EV3 Brick memory . Files and projects from the existing session will be lost”

  1. Make sure that the EV3 Brick is turned on .
  2. Hold down the Back, center, and left buttons on the EV3 Brick .
  3. When the screen goes blank, release the Back button .
  4. When the screen says “Starting,” release the center and left buttons

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!




Preparing for the VA/DC Championship

At our regional tournament last year, the Capital Girls Too were third place in the robot game and the Code Crackers were at the bottom of the list.  If you have a 7th grade team, I feel for you.  I found coaching 7th grade boys was a big challenge.  7th grade hormones should be classified as an illegal substance.

To prep for states, we will do a team meeting to discuss what they learned, what they liked and what they want to change.  Last year, the girls had one run change, the yellow run.  All the other programs were consistent but the yellow run destroyed the flexibility tower and never worked.  The run did bowling, flipped to monitor and picked up the lower flexibility object.  Given the timeline before regional, we did not focus on line following, we did not have the time and I did not focus on teaching this skill. At our debrief meeting, they wanted to follow the line and stop at the green line.  We started calling this a reset point and the concept was born.  They used it this year.  I spent one meeting explaining line following and they ended up using complex condition.  By the second meeting, the line following and reset point worked great for the yellow run.  Once they understood the concept, implemented it and saw the results, they incorporate the reset point into another run and line following into the green medicine.  Consistency was greatly improved but not perfect.

This year, I know what the Code Crackers will want to work on.  They started planning at the tournament.  They had issues with line detection and are already wanting to put in recovery logic.  Recovery logic is what is sounds like, it recovers when a line is not detected.  This year they used dual line detection to avoid the black text in the base but for some reason, it did not work great at tournament.  It worked on the home table every time.   They also missed the plane water and started working on an attachment modification at the tournament.  My only coaching suggestion will be to revisit the solutions slides for their project, I think they can expand on their solution now that they have more time.  Their run strategy, consistency and starting is great.  We will also clean and reset the robot.   Before technical judging, they turned on the robot and it locked in start-up mode.  They ended up not being able to run any runs in technical but their score showed what they could did.  Now they all know how to do a hard reset.

The Capital Girls have some work to do on their strategy and starting.  Starting is simple, more practice time and easier attachment interfaces.  In starting practice, we noticed it took them 20 seconds on some very simple attachments because they used snapping pins and just were not prepared.  One disadvantage of sub-teams is not everyone sees everything until just before tournament.  I thought this might be an issue early on but wanted them to learn from the experience.  They also ended up cutting out some runs because of the time limit.  The challenge with 4 starting teams is starting requires practice and with 4 teams, time is limited.   On Friday, we will meet and discuss what they want to improve on.  My daughter did jump the gun, she actually starting brainstorming ideas and practiced starting before I have had a chance to unpack from tournament.

With regional done, we can now relax since the teams met their goals.  We will meet about three times as a team to keep things top of mind and do starting team practices.   There may be some sub-team meetings to modify some runs based on what they want to do.

If any coaches would like to attend one of our meetings, let me know.  I have an open door policy and we are willing to help any team.  I was very rewarded when one of the teams we helped won champion and received an invitation to the Championship.  Even through we will be competing against them, we will be cheering them on.

Wow, what a day!

On Saturday, the Capital Girls and Code Crackers competed at the Chantilly tournament. The Capital Girls achieved a robot score of 182 and were awarded the Champion Award and an invitation to the VA/DC Championship tournament. The Code Crackers achieved the highest Division II score, 372 and were award the 2nd Place Champion and an invitation to the VA/DC Championship tournament.

These are great accomplishments but I am most proud of their core values and gracious professionalism acts.

Capital Girls:

  • After getting a practice round score of 38, they celebrated and never lost their spirit.
  • Cheered louder than any team
  • On their own, wrote thank you notes to volunteers during their downtime.

Code Crackers:

  • Adopted a 6th grade boy from my Boy Scout troop who was working on his robotics merit badge.  They made him their historian so he could have the FLL experience.
  • Were willing to loan another team the gyro sensor off their robot.

A big thank you to all the volunteers at the Chantilly tournament.  It was well run!




Coaching Parents

For rookie coaches, here is the email I shared with my teams to prepare parents for the tournament.  Also, remind your team no talking when waiting for a judging sessions.  Even whispers distract from the judging of other teams.

The tournament is here!  The kids have worked hard and I have confidence in both teams.  As we do our final practices, I think it is important to remember it is not the destination but the journey that counts.  There are no guarantees and past performance is not an indicator of this year’s outcome.   I am hopeful for both teams but want to keep expectations realistic and humble.

Tournament Logistics:

  • Tournament schedule is attached
  • Wear your team t-shirt and bring your notebook.
  • Arrive at XXXXXXX Cafeteria by 8:30 AM.  Park near the tennis courts.
  • Our team’s pit stop will be in the Cafeteria, please bring any team items to our table.  The tables will have the teams numbers on them.
  • There will be drinks and snacks for sale, please bring cash.
  • I will limit the team’s electronics.  There is no reason for them to use an electronic device.   If they need to contact you, have them ask to use my phone.
  • I will be jumping between the two teams, even changing shirts.  I don’t plan to go in every judging session.
  • The Capital Girls and Code Crackers are not competing against each other, they are in different age divisions.

How FLL is scored:

There are three judging sessions –  Core Values, Technical and Project.  After each session, the judges rank the room.  At the end of the tournament, the judges combine room rankings.  The team with the best ranking and a robot score in the top 60% will be the tournament champion and will get an invitation to the Championship.  The judges then award Project, Technical, Core Values and Robot Performance.  A team can only win one judges award (Champion, Project, Technical and Core Values).  A team who wins a judges award can also win robot performance.  After all the awards, they announce who has an invitation to the Championship tournament.  The number of invitations is based on tournament size, typically there are 3 to 4 for Division 1 (Capital Girls) and 1 to 2 for Division II (Code Crackers).

Robot Game:

The robot game is 2:30 minutes (150 seconds).  The robot will not work perfect, we don’t expected it to be perfect.     I have learned in 4 years of coaching, luck is a key component.  For robot performance, our goal is to be in the top 60%.  Also, the robot games is a small part of FLL but is the most visible.  The judging rooms are where it matters most and the teams are prepared.   I personally do not track the score.

What can spectators do?

Only two coaches and a historian are allowed in judging sessions.  All spectators can watch the robot game.    We will try to video tape the judging sessions and share with the entire team.

Parent Expectations:

  1. Work with your child to make sure they know and are confident in their project lines and technical talking points.
  2. The kids know what they are doing but will make mistakes.  It is ok, we are team and we fail and succeed together.
  3. The kids feed off of you.  If you are nervous, they will be nervous.
  4. The robot will NOT work!  For those new to FLL, the robot will not be consistent.  Last year the girls destroyed missions on the table and the boys had flying balls everywhere.  It’s ok.
  5. I do not care about score and do not track it.  For robot performance, our goal is to be in the top 60%.
  6. The most important thing at the tournament is to Have Fun!
  7. As parents and coaches, we are expected to demonstrate Gracious Professionalism and Core Values.

–          We are a team.

–          We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.

–          We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.

–          We honor the spirit of friendly competition.

–          What we discover is more important than what we win.

–          We share our experiences with others.

–          We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.

–          We have FUN!


Parent Things to Bring:

–          Comfortable Sports chairs for parents

–          Entertainment (Book,  IPad).  I will have a rubber band bracelet jig and some games.



Oh the places you’ll go!

On Monday, both the Capital Girls and Code Crackers visited NOAA’s Forecast Center at Dulles.   The featured image is the team getting to experience a weather balloon launch.  We talked to meteorologist and learned many cool weather facts, like how snow fall is measured.

This year, both teams have gotten some great experiences.  Our research has taken the teams to the Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center, Virginia Task Force 1, USGS and NOAA.   We have met with emergency management, search and rescue, hydrologist, climatologist and meteorologist experts.


Looking back

Last Tuesday, the Code Crackers and Capital Girls co-hosted a Core Values Challenge Night at our elementary school.  There were 4 to 6 rookie teams who did Duct Tape Team Challenge and Balloon Person Challenge.  For the Duct Tape Team Challenge, the team is given a roll of duct tape and instructed to make a duct tape object that represents their team.  They can only stick the duct tape to duct tape.  For the Balloon Person Challenge, the teams are given a role of masking tape and balloons.  They are instructed to stick as many balloons to one person in five minutes as possible.  Nothing can be taped above the neck. The trick is not to inflated the balloons. The instructions say nothing about inflating.

After the team core values challenges, Angie (our FIRST Coordinator) and I did a tournament prep Q&A for rookie coaches.  It brought back memories.  It reminded me of our first year, total chaos.   It was hard and emotional.  On Saturday, the team was still programming and the tournament was Sunday.   As a coach, I even forgot to give the team information sheets for the judges.  Sensors and master programs where not on our radar.  I remember after the first run, every kid was ready to give up.  As a team, we had to decide how to react to failure in our eyes. We could drag our heads or we could lift them up high and have fun.  After a team talk, the team decided to have fun.  Every since that moment, we have focused on having fun. The next year, they qualified for the Championship. 

As the teams are preparing their core values poster, I realize what a amazing and fun time the teams have had together.  It does not matter how they do at tournament, the experiences, friendships and core values skills they developed will last a lifetime.

As we do our final week of preparation, I think it is important to remember it is not the destination but the journey that counts.

For rookie coaches, I can promise you it gets better. Focus on fun!