Monthly Archives: September 2014

Team Rules

Focusing 7 graders is harder than herding cats. To get the team to focus, I reminded them of the goals they set and had them develop team rules. Since they need and want social time, we built in 20 minutes of social time. When they break a rule, they lose 2 minutes of social time. They got this idea from the teacher they interviewed who uses a points reward system.

Coaching 7th graders has aged me.


Rookie FLL Team Workshop in Washington, DC

I will be helping with a coaching clinic in DC on Saturday, September 20.  Details below if you are interested in attending.


Rookie FLL Team Workshop in Washington, DC


Saturday, September 20, 2014


YMCA Capital View, 2118 Ridgecrest Ct, SE, Washington, DC 20020


Load-in & Set-up — 8:30 am to 9:30 am

Program Start Time — 9:30 am

Program End Time — 12:30 pm

Load-out — 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm

COST:  Free




2014-09-15 16.21.13

Robot Build Week

Last week, the Capital Teens built their base robot and got a good start on project.

Monday Sub-Teams Meeting – Robot Chassis

The team decided at the Friday team meeting to build a robot like last years.  I have a rule that they have to build a new robot every year.  The only debate is what to name the robot.   For the chassis, the girls started with the EV3 base robot for the motor and brick mounts.

Not in EV3 Kit

For wheels the team utilizes two motorized wheels with treads and two wheels without treads for stability.  The wheels the team uses are the Lego motorcycle wheels.

The design was developed by completing the FLL robot design worksheet.   The worksheet provides a framework and a series of experiments to develop a solid FLL robot.  Using the outcome of the wheel experiments and the mission requirements, the team selected the larger wheel.  Last year the team started with the pivot ball in the EV3 kit.  After running a series of straight test, they realized it created consistency issues and opted for wheels without treads.   The robot design worksheet, which includes robot test, is available under resources.  Rookie Coach Note: a robot that goes straight is critical for a consistent robot.  Have your team run straight test and make adjustments until the robot goes straight.  

Wheel Seletion

 Tuesday Sub-Team Meeting – Third Motor and Sensors

2014-09-15 16.21.21-2

Tuesday’s sub-team focused on adding the motorized arm and sensors.  After looking at the mat and missions, the team opted for three core sensors – two color sensors for line following and detection and an ultrasonic sensor to detect distance.  They plan use the ultrasonic for the door, search and key missions. The also added a gyro and plan to experiment using it to make sure the robot goes straight.

The biggest challenge for this team was figuring out how to attach the sensors.  Kathy gets the credit for the solution, it took some time but she has a solid solution.

Thursday Sub-Team – Wall Following and Squaring

2014-09-15 16.21.53

Thursday’s night sub-team focused on bumpers for wall squaring and following.  This is one area they dramatically changed from last year.  Last year’s robot had an outside bumper for axle support and wall following/squaring.  It made the robot bulky.  This year, they wanted a smaller robot and came up with wheel bumper design.  It works very well.

For the last thirty minutes of the meeting, they focused on the soccer mission.  They plan to build a catapult but did not get very far.



Friday – Team Meeting

2014-09-13 09.46.44

Friday was a team meeting focused on research.  The team watched the research video and white boarded their ideas.

They did develop their question: “How could we improve the way someone learns basic life skills through technology”.  For homework, they are to learn a life skill and report on Friday what they learned and how they learned it.  They really want to build an app.

2014-09-16 10.03.10We did a core values challenge where the team had to build a bridge to support a 1 1/2 pound weight between two chairs with LEGOS.  They accomplished it fast but were not listening to each other.  We did a great retrospective and on the second attempt they worked as a team, letting the leader lead a round robin and assign task.

They ended the meeting playing a card game.

We meet with a teacher this Friday to understand how people learn differently.

Friday’s meeting reaffirmed for me that a 7th grade team has some challenges that are new to the team.   Now that they are in middle school, they don’t have time to socialize.  My team is spread out across three middle schools.  Socializing at meetings is a big distraction.  I am building in socializing into the team meetings.  For me, I want it to be fun.

Simplify your volunteer life!


I am leading the development of, a web application to simplify planning, organizing and sharing for community groups.  It will be free and will be very focused on helping FLL teams.  Signup to be part of the private preview at   Click sign-up and then complete the “notify me” section.  When it is ready, I will send you an invitation code.


2014-09-06 08.15.58

FLL World Class Strategy Meeting

We had our season kick-off meeting.  I was not prepared, I was getting the board setup just before the meeting and had not even read the mission challenges.  It was truly going to be in team hands, 10 7th grade girls.  We met for two hours and achieved in one meeting what took three last year.  Having an experienced Division II team mitigated my lack of prep.   It was actually very rewarding being extremely hands off and girl-led.  I actually got very excited to hear them use terms  like reset points, wall squaring, line following and all the advanced topics they have learned over the years.

Since the purpose of my blog is the share our experience with other teams, here is a breakdown of our meeting.

Scheduling the Meeting

The meeting was scheduled last Sunday using  Doodle allows you to determine meeting availability and reduces the hassle of sorting through emails. It’s a free tool.  As you can see, scheduling ten people in the NOVA area is almost impossible.  Turns out Friday night will be our team meeting.



Mission Education

2014-09-06 08.14.04For mission education, we watched the mission video as a team.  After the video, we went to the table and each team member gave an overview about a mission and then the team discussed how to approach the mission.  This way everyone participated and everyone learned about the missions.  Having the girls teach each other is a great way for them to learn the missions.


Tip:  Pictured below you will notice two things, a dot sticker with the mission points and a post-it note with the attachment concept.  The point stickers stay on the table throughout the season.  Also, using the post-it notes at the table is very hands-on and collaborative.  It works much better than having them fill out  worksheet.  

2014-09-06 08.17.12



The first part of our strategy was to set team goals.  They set the goals of going to States and Worlds. Given their experience and track record, these are realistic goals but I did emphasis having fun and learning life skills is my goal.  I also wanted them to understand that the past is not always a predictor of the future.

jiraagile-01_hero_1_goagilewitheaseIn conjunction with the life skills goal, I set a goal for the team to learn Agile.  Our team will be using the agile development method, including setting up two week sprints.  We will use JIRA as our online project management tool.  What was funny is a couple of parents started laughing because they use Agile and JIRA at work.  At Upper Quadrant, we are using it to develop StartingPoints. I think it will be great for a mature FLL team.

My team is an experienced and mature Division II team.   I am only experimenting with teaching them agile because I think they are ready.  I would not recommend this approach for rookie Division I teams.   When my teams were 5th and 6th graders, I used a container of marbles. Each marble represented a week and the number of marbles was based on the number of weeks left before the tournament.  Each week we took out a marble.  This was a my kid friendly project management tool.  It worked, they could easily visualize how much time was left.  

For research, they want to use the presentation style from previous years.  Their robot strategy is to build a robot similar to last years but reduce the number of attachments by building stuff on the robot.

Our team’s mission strategy uses board zones, pictured below.  The board is divided into three zones based on how the girls wanted to organize their runs.  Each zone is assigned a sub-team. Utilizing a strategy the girls developed two seasons ago, they will be using the green line as a starting point.  We called this concept Reset Point but I have renamed it to starting point. They will write a sub-program that will drive straight until it detects the green line, then turn and wall square, creating a starting point for the yellow and green zone runs.   I will be adding this concept to the Robotics Badge Learning System.  Tip: visit for great free mission resources, like the table image below.  If you use their resources, share a picture and send a thank you email.  I love techbrick and their contribution to FLL.




2014-09-05 20.51.55With a 10 person team, not everyone can work on everything.  We divide into sub-teams, two teams of three and one team of four.   To form sub-teams, I setup a whiteboard and pulled up the meeting availability doodle. Using the doodle and board zones, the girls formed sub-teams completely own their own.  In previous years, each girl would rank their mission preference and then I would use meeting availability to form sub-teams.  We found doing it based on zones is much easier.  One thing I learned by allowing them to form sub-teams is that people will work to be with their close friends.   This is not bad but I hate the idea of cliques.  For my team, I want everyone to be included.  Everyone builds builds, everyone programs, everyone does research, everyone has fun.

We will have team meeting that everyone attends on Fridays.   At the team meetings, we work on research and technical collaboration.  The sub-teams meet separately and will work on their runs.   It creates more meetings for me but is highly effective.  Because of this approach and the badge learning system, my girls are very advanced programmers.

Meeting Wrap-up



Every year I make a bet with my girls team.  Last year, the girls got to paint my toe nails.  This year if the qualify for the state tournament, I will dye my hair pink for the state tournament.  I refused to get a tattoo, piercing or dress like a women – some of their other suggestions.   We ended our meeting with some fun, watching youtube videos.


Robotics Badge Learning System


To develop FIRST skills, I use a Robotics Badge learning system.  To learn about the badge system, check out the blog post Boy Scout and Girl Scout Methods.



Simplify your volunteer life!


I am leading the development of, a web application to simplify planning, organizing and sharing for community groups.  It will be free and will be very focused on helping FLL teams.  Signup to be part of the private preview at   Click sign-up and then complete the “notify me” section.  When it is ready, I will send you an invitation code.



What is a starting team?

I had a new coach ask what is a starting team? I thought I would share the response for first year coaches who have not seen a competition.

At competition, only two people are allowed at the table at one time. You have a practice round and three competition rounds. During the rounds you start the robot, they count down 1-2-3 Lego, and you have pit stops to swap out attachments and stage mission pieces that come back to base or that need to be delivered to a place on the mat.

There are two thoughts, have the team tag in and out so everyone is involved or have dedicated starting teams.

My first year we did the tag team approach and realized that it was chaotic for our team. On my second year, we had two starting teams and it was much smoother. Each team does two rounds. Last year my girls team had three starting teams. This was their choice so everyone who wanted to start could start.

Just like NASCAR, pit stops can win or lose races. Doing pit stops fast and correct requires practice so each person knows who is doing what. Our starting teams practice the robot runs for two hours or more. It takes this much time so they are comfortable and know what to do.

Also, the robot never works as planned. The starting teams practice what to do when the robot gets stuck or things don’t go as planned.

As a team, you have to decide if you want dedicated teams or the tag team. It can be a hot topic for coaches. I don’t feel strongly that dedicate teams are better than tag teams. We chose it for our team so we could have different runs. Regardless of choice, plan practice time for starting.