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Thread: Dog gears for modular attachments

  1. #21
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Take Minecraft for a second. It has been lots of things for different kids (old kids too). YouTube is overflowing with HowTo videos on every aspect of MC.

    There are different types of kids (and viewers of those videos). High-end performers that would have discovered most of those things on their own and who spend time trying to out-do the videos, becoming inspired to try more things on their own. Low-end copycats that don't have any imagination of their own, who are the same to follow Lego instructions to build the Harry Potter castle as it was blindly put before them in an instruction book. Page by page, part by part. Then there is the usual large bunch in the middle that span and vary the two extremes.

    Now for the low-end kid (as I have evilly labeled them), do they get any value or utility from doing Legos by-the-book, or only doing in MC what they just saw in a video?

    A big part of me says no. I am one that really misses and believes in the value of going out in the garage or backyard and just tryin' stuff. So many youngsters want the final working product and no longer have interest in figuring it out on their own. I invest in FLL for some hope to get kids hands-on something and something with no set answer key in the back of the book.

    Yes, there is some utility in "keeping kids involved" or "getting them hooked and interested", that is indeed better than passively watching TV and their childhood waltz by. If one kid gets inspired by EVLessons or the others, I could never campaign against it.


    So if a team or kid took on the Mindstorms platform and each FLL season on their own, and stumbled and scratched their way to better-than-average - then I think they will have learned and been convinced of a way of thinking, that propels them way forward towards excellence in their next 10-15 years.

    If a team or kid opens up the Mindstorms box and immediately rushes out to copy what is available from the internet (or is spoon fed from a well-meaning but over-involved mentor), and they too manage their way to a better-than-average result - then I think they have a decently likelihood of always being just better-than-average.


    Now there is one other angle. Let's say you knew you wanted to be a programmer. Is it really needed these days to learn assembler and twos-compliment storage methods, etc? To learn "from the ground up" so you "appreciate" higher-level languages and how not to write code that is wasteful of memory or resources, etc. The journeymen, apprentice, master concepts.

    Normally I would say yes. Certainly the "craftsman" types would have a deep or rich understanding of what they build upon. But look at the speed of development and technology today. A college kid can make a killer app with some JavaScript or XLST or something, and NEVER even heard of BASIC or Cobol or what an assembler even is. The same way I can get into my truck, keep it filled up with gas - and quite honestly know next to nothing about what goes on under the hood.

    If we always state that every master has to start from square one - then we stifle overall innovation. Only by building-on-the-shoulders of other masters that already conquered assembly and compilation concepts - do we rapidly progress.


    But. Here is where I think FLL has a different role. FLL (and the age group it targets) is NOT already slotted to become programmers or robot designers, or whatever. It is a great EXERCISE to start to developing muscles and skillsets that one needs to design and problem solve. And if we want them to be "masters" of problem solving (no matter what field and future they behold), then I think you get the best bang for the buck by starting them at square one.

    Only if square one makes them turn towards square zero, and these barriers to "getting going" can be mitigated by the likes of EV3Lessons or Lego tutorials or even Mr Dude35 - well then, that is certainly OK and better overall.

  2. #22
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Quote Originally Posted by dna1990 View Post
    But. Here is where I think FLL has a different role. FLL (and the age group it targets) is NOT already slotted to become programmers or robot designers, or whatever. It is a great EXERCISE to start to developing muscles and skillsets that one needs to design and problem solve. And if we want them to be "masters" of problem solving (no matter what field and future they behold), then I think you get the best bang for the buck by starting them at square one.

    Only if square one makes them turn towards square zero, and these barriers to "getting going" can be mitigated by the likes of EV3Lessons or Lego tutorials or even Mr Dude35 - well then, that is certainly OK and better overall.
    My concern is the proliferation of FLL resources raises team expectations place on themselves. I mentored a team this year that had little interest in doing anything that didn't directly lead to a mission solution. They searched online and found these fantastic robots and expected that they should be capable of the same. Their questions were always "How do I make the robot do this?" Whenever they encountered a problem the reaction was panic. When I asked them a question the answer was usually "I don't know." They wanted to shortcut the learning process, and they expected this could be easily done.

    Instead of designing a robot they built one from instructions in the EV3 software, learning nothing in the process (you can learn from following instructions, but you need to build a lot). When it came time to build attachments they had no basic understanding of how parts go together, what parts work best for what purpose, or how to begin the design process. Had they started with "Make a 4' high tower they would have learned those things, but they bypassed relatively easy tasks and jumped directly into a more complex and difficult realm.

    The same thing happened with programming. They wanted to immediately jump into programming missions. Why waste time learning what the blocks do, or how the sensors work. Had they started solving simple problems like read the light sensor and display the value they might grow an understanding of what the intensity value means and have a chance at solving the problem of the robot stopping in the wrong place when they are looking for a black line.

    While designing simple tools you learn problem solving skills. The problems you encounter are simple and a good match for your underdeveloped skills. Using tutorials and videos and books to shortcut the process does not develop those skills. Now you find yourself trying to solve difficult problems lacking skill and confidence.

    Before I built a house I built a birdhouse. I learned how to use a handsaw and cut a board straight and true. I learned how to drive a nail without dimpling the wood. I learned accurate measurements were important or the finished product wouldn't be strong. The first birdhouse was terrible, it split and fell apart after a season. I learned it was important to pay attention to grain and how it affected expansion. I learned that end grain doesn't hold a nail. I learned that pre-drilling holes reduces stress. The second birdhouse may still be hanging in my old back yard. Years later I was a roofer, then a framer, and finally a finish carpenter. I picked up plumbing and wiring along the way. And then I built a house.

    FLL teams should really start by learning the LEGO equivalent of sawing a board. There is challenge in simple skills and joy and accomplishment in mastering them.
    Last edited by Dean Hystad; 12-18-2015 at 06:45 PM.

  3. #23
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Excellent points Dean. Yes, I saw with a team as well - you could tell they wanted to have a solution like they saw on youtube and was expecting some 800pt run, only to find their ability to build/execute at that level - was far lacking in the fundamentals.

    Their bird house crumbled quickly, and they didn't seem to have anyone or ability to help them cope.

  4. #24
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Quote Originally Posted by cschaffer View Post
    Let me finish this by throwing in the opposite perspective that told me that its okay for these sites to exist. I helped found 5 new teams in my town. None of them have any core of kids who had been in FLL before. EV3Lessons, BuilderDude35 and others all were instrumental in keeping them from being overwhelmed. If it wasnt for resources like those, they might not have made it through the season and might not be willing to continue on next year. 40 more kids learned to love the discovery, building, and project skills that FLL brought to the table. For that I am most thankful.
    I suspect that those of you who have the background knowledge can give kids appropriate clues and feedback to direct them into "discovering" things. I suspect that you don't lock them in a room with a robot, a laptop, and no guidance, and expect the average kid to pop out before the end of the 12 week FLL season with a robot that can do anything.

    For kids who have a coach who has no background at all in programming or engineering, who barely knows how to use Word and Excel, there has to be some resource to learn how to program and build and design. I have learned along with the kids, from our online instructors and mentors. I am extremely grateful to those who have written the instruction books and reference materials, the EV3lessons and Builderdudes and Stamps Learning and others. We don't want to have every step mapped out, but we want the ability to learn how to solve our problems from those who have been there. When the kids want to figure out how to do something in our program and I cannot help them, it could take hours and days of fatiguing exasperation where the kids get disheartened and bored, and want to quit, or do just quit. Or we could take some time to research our reference materials, including Internet sources, and study what they have done, and figure out how to apply it to our situation, and improve on it, and get something satisfyingly accomplished in a timely basis. It still takes time and trying different things to learn what works, and our resources do not give us a boilerplate solution.

    FLL attracts kids who are interested in the competition aspect. The FLL season is very short and intense, with a LOT to accomplish in a VERY short time. I wish it was an environment where kids could take the time to just poke around and explore and figure out things intuitively from scratch, but it is not. I think the kids who are participating in FLL because of the game would be unhappy if I tried to make it so and would not allow them to use books or online lessons. They would choose to no longer participate.

  5. #25
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    +1 with what CCVH wrote -- I couldn't have stated it better myself.

  6. #26
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    There have been many interesting posts in this thread as it has deviated from the original topic.

    I've watched with interest the increase in the available resources for learning FLL-related programming and building techniques since I first became involved with FLL about 8 years ago (Power Puzzle season - circa 2007). I recall struggling as rookie coach to learn about the technical aspects of FLL programming and robot building. There were some videos on youtube of robot runs, a few web sites and other documents, and some general purpose books about Mindstorms robots, but nothing like what is available today. I was thrilled to find this forum, and the wealth of useful nuggets of information it contained, even though it was a slow process to mine it.

    I started to notice a change around the time of the Body Forward season. Towards the end of that season, the "Winning Design!" book came out, and I bought a copy. I showed it to my son, and he was not pleased. He was convinced the author had somehow stole the programs his team had written, since much of the code in the book greatly resembled the program sequencer and various MyBlocks they had constructed over the years. I eventually convinced him that independently developed code often looks very similar when solving the same problems. The next season, I saw a slew of robots in competition based on the main sample bot used in book. Our own team contributed to the available knowledge by sharing on a blog how to develop some useful MyBlocks.

    Since that time, there has been a dramatic increase in websites, youtube videos, and other online content geared toward mastering FLL programming and building. I don't deny that much of it is good, and I'm sure that if I was a rookie coach, I'd be eagerly consuming the latest from BuilderDude35 and ev3lessons. Since I don't coach anymore, I mainly peruse those sites to understand where some of the teams I judge come up with their techniques. When I see three independent teams at one regional tournament all using dog gears, a quick online search can usually find their source.

    The wealth of information in itself is not bad, but I am worried that an "arms race" has developed in FLL, as teams have escalated the programming and building techniques they utilize in an effort to keep up with the other teams at the competition. Instead of seeing a team trying to simply use a light sensor to detect a line, I see teams utilizing a sophisticated MyBlock they downloaded or copied from a website that aligns the robot to a line on the field. Don't get me wrong - it is great when teams are experienced and ready to try more advanced techniques. But when rookie teams try to utilize advanced MyBlocks developed by others, they often run into issues they can't debug when the bot doesn't quite behave the way they want.

    Some people have the goal of "advancing" the overall sophistication of robot building and programming in FLL, mainly by utilizing techniques that others have developed. I probably agreed with that goal several years ago, but I'm no longer sure it is worthwhile. I don't think we are really helping the kids learn the design and engineering process by giving them ever more sophisticated building blocks to put together.
    Last edited by timdavid; 12-19-2015 at 11:00 AM.

  7. #27
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Quote Originally Posted by CCVH View Post
    The FLL season is very short and intense, with a LOT to accomplish in a VERY short time. I wish it was an environment where kids could take the time to just poke around and explore and figure out things intuitively from scratch, but it is not.
    FLL doesn't have a specific season. It has a period of time when there are specific missions available to solve, and a project to research and develop. But there are nine other months in the year available for exploration.
    FTC Judge: 2010
    FLL Mentor, Instructor, and/or Referee since 2011
    FRC judge (Chairman's Award): 2014
    Dean says I'm an "Oompa Loompa of Science"

  8. #28
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Quote Originally Posted by timdavid View Post
    Some people have the goal of "advancing" the overall sophistication of robot building and programming in FLL, mainly by utilizing techniques that others have developed. I probably agreed with that goal several years ago, but I'm no longer sure it is worthwhile. I don't think we are really helping the kids learn the design and engineering process by giving them ever more sophisticated building blocks to put together.
    I agree. FLL exists to foster an interest in technical fields among kids who would not otherwise consider it. Advancing the state of the art in scoring points by shoving bits of plastic around a vinyl mat isn't really the focus.
    FTC Judge: 2010
    FLL Mentor, Instructor, and/or Referee since 2011
    FRC judge (Chairman's Award): 2014
    Dean says I'm an "Oompa Loompa of Science"

  9. #29
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Hi All,

    Thought I would chime in with some of the behind the scenes insight.

    Overall, the kids at EV3Lessons have had the most impact on the rookies who want to learn, the teams who don't have a technical mentor/coach, and the teams that give up using sensors because they can't figure it out. These teams don't learn the possibilities/capabilities of the EV3 robot and, therefore, never get excited by its potential. Talking to these teams/kids/parents/coaches is what keeps the EV3Lessons kids motivated to devote so much time maintaining the site.

    But EV3Lessons is not just about FLL. EV3Lessons’ main goal has been to teach how to program using robotics as a platform. Many of you might not be aware that EV3Lessons also helps promote programming in a far larger community than just FLL. *Many* of their users are classrooms, camps, and kids/parents using a robot at home. The kids go out of their way to teach programming in the community using the exact same resources! For example, last week they taught "Hour of EV3" in honor of "Hour of Code", using the same materials.

    Their goal has never been to enable FLL teams to get high scores (which some resources focus on). For example, the kids behind EV3Lessons have tried very hard to avoid telling any FLL team how to solve their missions. They turn down contributions geared towards FLL missions and they reprimand anyone that asks for mission strategies or solutions. Sadly, we find that teams watching videos of the current season solutions is far more damaging to creativity than any programming lesson could be.


    As several posters have noted, discovery with a bit of guidance is important to keep kids engaged and enthusiastic. The kids spend their personal time talking, emailing, Skyping other groups/teams to keep them encouraged and mentor them. During these calls, the kids encourage rookies to learn the basics first, and guide and make sure they understand 1st year goals/skills vs. 5th year goals/skills.

    Unfortunately, not everyone listens to their guidance. There is no denying that there are teams that just want to win. There are rookie teams that want to build the 900pt robot. There are teams that just want the answer. Those teams have always been there and will always be. They are the ones that will take whatever shortcuts needed to get there. EV3Lessons is not about helping these guys. It’s about helping the 1000s of others who need a good starting point.
    Last edited by sseshan; 12-19-2015 at 08:02 PM. Reason: Formatting
    Coach for Not the Droids You Are Looking For (Droids Robotics) since 2011
    Judge at Western PA, World Festival, Razorback Open
    Head Referee, Western PA Championships

  10. #30
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    Default Re: Dog gears for modular attachments

    Thanks, EV3Lessons/Droids Robotics, for helping so many people around the world! Your work is greatly appreciated by thousands.

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