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:


This week’s challenge requires more preparation by the coach, so make sure to gather all materials in advance of your team meeting.

Roll of masking tape
5 cardboard tubes (from paper towel or toilet paper rolls)
2 sheets of paper
10 index cards
10 straws
20 toothpicks
10 marbles (for movement only)
Scissors (for construction only; may not be used as part of maze)

User masking tape to mark a line 12 inches from the edge of a table. Place the bucket on the floor 3 feet away from the taped line (2 feet from the edge of the table).

Instructions to the team:
You have 7 minutes to create a maze to move marbles from the tabletop into the bucket. Each marble must begin its movement behind the line taped on the table. Marbles may not be thrown. Once your structure is complete, you will have one minute to roll the marbles.

Did one person come up with the maze design and convince the other team members to try it, or was it a joint decision-making process? If one person came up with the design, what role did the other team members play? Is it more efficient to have one person in charge of design? If so, what effect does that have on the team?


FLL Core Values Challenge – Consensus Loop

This week’s challenge develops problem solving, conflict management, and compromise – but it doesn’t require movement or building so it’s perfect for when you’re meeting in a smaller indoor space.

Roll of duct tape
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 (sticky side inside).
Do this four more times, and when you make the fifth circle, use it to connect all the circles.
Throw the bundle of loops on the floor or table to start.

Instructions to the team:
Without touching the loops, determine which of the duct tape loops is holding the other four. You have five minutes. When the team has an answer, or time expires, pick up the selected loop to see if they got it right.

Drop me a line at if you have questions, suggestions, or just want to say hi. I’d love to hear from you.

Yours truly,


FLL Core Values Challenge Activity – Have A Ball

In celebration of summer, here’s another challenge using an inflatable beach ball.


25 sheets of newspaper
1 sheet of mailing labels (substitute: tape)
Inflate a beach ball. Provide a large area on the floor for the team to work.

Instructions to the team:
You have 5 minutes to build a structure that holds a beach ball at least 3 feet above floor level. The beach ball must stay on the structure for a minimum of 10 seconds. You may test the structure with the beach ball during the 5-minute building period.

(Does the team develop a strategy that lets them work together? Do they come up with creative ways to fold and roll the newspaper? Do they take advantage of the opportunity to test the structure? How do they deal with set-backs, such as crushing the tower during a test?)

Drop me a line at if you have questions, suggestions, or just want to say hi. I’d love to hear from you.


FLL Core Value Challenge: GET IN LINE

These are simple and fast challenges that don’t require any props.  They are great if you’re put on the spot and need to provide an activity without any advance prep time – but also provide opportunities to discuss communication and teamwork.


Instructions to the team:

Without speaking, line up by height.  (Watch for what happens when two kids can’t decide which of them is taller – how do they express their disagreement? Do other team members help resolve it?)

Now, still without speaking, line up in alphabetical order (Watch whether the team uses first or last names to create the order – how did they make sure everyone was using either first names or last names?)

Now, still without speaking, line up by birthday.  (This is the trickiest one. Some kids will try to form a line by age – who has the earliest and latest birthdays overall. Others will try to form a line by birthday month, putting someone born in January 2005 ahead of someone born in February 2004. How does the team become aware of this variance? How do they handle it?)

Drop me a line at hello @ if you have questions, suggestions, or just want to say hi. I’d love to hear from you.


FLL Core Values Challenge – Joined at the Hip

Take advantage of summer and take your team outside. A physical challenge like this one also can be a welcome break in the middle of a research session.


Masking tape
Inflatable beach balls (one less than the number of team members, so if you have 6 team members, you need 5 beach balls)

Use the tape to mark a finish line on the floor or ground at east 20 feet away. Line up team members. Have them hold the beach balls between their hips.

Instructions to the team:
Have you heard the term “joined at the hip”? Here’s your chance to see exactly what that means. Work your way to the finish line without dropping any of the balls. If anyone drops a ball, you must begin again at the start line. You will have 3 minutes to work your way to the finish line.

Variations: Use tennis balls, balloons, or ping-pong balls.

Drop me a line at if you have questions, suggestions, or just want to say hi. I’d love to hear from you.

Robot grunge blockss

First Lego League Open Source Robotics Badges

NOVALabs is developing an open-sourced robotics badge system for First Lego League to help youth develop robotics skills.  The concept is inspired from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  I used the concept with team and the results were amazing.  You can find my badge system under resources.  We are now taking it to new level and making it open sourced.  Don’t be surprised if you see a kick starter campaign.

Follow our progress, follow us on twitter.  We are currently looking for badge suggestions.


Getting back in the game – Legoland Tournament Prep

After finishing 2nd Place Champion in the VA-DC region, I was ready for a break.  I wanted to focus on, our new team management system for robotic teams.  With our season success, we did qualify for open tournaments and will be attending the LegoLand tournament in May.   I did not think my team would be up for it given the expense but everyone jump for it.  I am actually excited about it.  It also means I will be blogging about our prep and experience.

My big question, how do you prepare for these tournaments?

I am fortunate to have coaching friends in FLL who have competed in the tournament.  They have been a great resource.  I now understand the tournament structure and how competitive the robot game will be.  Scores will be high.

I have confidence in my team’s project, core values and technical but the robot, like most robots, was not consistent at tournaments.  It is capable of a 420 run on a perfect run, which are very rare.

Friday, we are having a team meeting to discuss two things:

  1. What is our tournament goal, to be competitive or have fun?
  2. How much fundraising do we want to do?

The answer to the first question will set our practice rhythm.  If we want to be competitive, we will build a new robot to that addresses some shortcomings of the girls design and leverages approaches we observed this season.   I actually got a new robot for Christmas.  A grown man getting a LEGO robot for Christmas, I am nerd and I accept it.

Stay tuned as I share our experience.

Help me when a bet, I am betting my Upper Quadrant marketing team a lunch.  I need @starting_points to have more followers than @upperquadrant.  

Cloud Computing Devices

EV3 LEGO LEGO® MINDSTORMS® coming to iOS tablets.

Per the Lego Education Website: 

Tablet-based software supporting LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 will be available soon!

At the BETT Show in London, LEGO® Education demoed the new LEGO Education EV3 Programming App for use with the LEGO MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 solution. The EV3 Programming App is a simple and effective way for classrooms to get started with EV3 within a 45-minute classroom period. The combination of the physical EV3 robot and app provides educators with the tools needed to engage and motivate their students and opens up the possibility of expanding the EV3 experience to the more extensive computer-based edition of the EV3 software. Currently, the app is compatible with iOS-based tablets and will be available in English in March 2015 via the Apple iTunes App Store and LEGO Education downloads.


LEGO and MINDSTORMS is a registered trademark of LEGO.


StartingPoints Robot Nerds

Get a free robot nerd sticker and free StartingPoints Robot Nerd t-shirt while supplies last.  On your team website or any website or blog, link to


Then send us an email at with the URL that has the link, your address and shirt size.  We want spam you or share your information.  We want to provide tool that help FLL teams.


Embracing failure as a learning experience

Failure for academically driven youth is a challenge, it scares them to the point they will not try something.  For a team to be successful, you have to train youth to embrace failure as a learning experience.  Part of mastering FLL is learning through experimentation.  You will find your best builders, robot or core values, will be the youth that just jump in a try something.  The Edison slide above is how I coach failure is learning.  I show this as part of the season kick-off and use Edison’s famous quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Whenever I notice a youth is scared to try something, I just ask “How many times did Edison fail when creating the light bulb?  For some reason, this story and concept resonates with youth.


2014 VA-DC FLL Championship Tournament

A special thanks goes out to all the VA-DC FLL Volunteers, it was a phenomenal season and it would not have been possible without the many volunteers.

Congratulations to the Capital Teens, my all girls team, for having fun all weekend, even when the robot did not perform up to its potential.  The Capital Teens were awarded Division II Second Place Champion.  In their words, the “so close” award.

Next Year

When I started this season, it was going to be my last year as a coach.  I wanted to move on to some new challenges.    That changed last week.  The Capital Teens will be back for our fourth and final year.

For those who do not know our team, you might think it is to try for Champion.  That would be nice but that is not our reason.   My team loves FLL and I love FLL.  They love sharing and mentoring other teams.  For this reason, we will be back.   They have a passion for FLL that gives me the energy for one more year. Now I just have to figure out how to tell my wife.


FLL EV3 Wall Squaring

Wall Squaring – simple but effective for improving consistency.  Wall squaring is the strategy of using a wall to square the robot.  Depending on your robot design, you can square in the back or the front.

wallsquareMy team designed their robot with wall squaring  and following in mind.  Their robot has 4 wall wheels and both a back and front bumper.

At our team meeting, we counted the number of wall squares,  They wall square 7 times and do one wall following.

We also use wall squaring as checkpoints, putting tape on the wall where the robot is expected to square.  This year was our first time doing this and we loved it.  It offered two advantages, you can tell when the robot is off.  It is also provides a starting point, meaning you can position the robot at that spot and do not have to run an entire program.  When programming missions, this saves times and battery.

You can also square on the lines.  My team did 4 line squares this year and it works great.  I will cover this topic in a future post.