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Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

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  • #31
    Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

    Originally posted by LegoMAMA View Post
    Unfair competition:… of course the middle school teams rolled over the elementary teams
    This was the biggest shocker for me - we just saw an elementary school team soundly defeat a seasoned team of brilliant eighth graders, last year’s state champions none-the-less! It's tempting to raise an eyebrow and mutter about coach involvement but I spoke to a couple of elementary school teams at our Super-Regional. Those kids were very poised, articulate, and poured forth facts about their projects. They presented better than many adults I've worked with "in the real world". I don't know how common it is, but it can be done. I can only assume they are blessed with a very talented (and patient!) coach.

    Originally posted by LegoMAMA View Post
    We had a lot of trouble just getting and holding the kids' focus.
    We had the same problems with our 6th graders. I've had plenty of experience working with kids and have had to learn strategies to manage them. My experience has primarily been with elementary ages. Capturing and maintaining the attention of middle schoolers is much harder for me. Perhaps that's why elementary schools are able to compete with older kids, perhaps the younger kids are more willing to "submit"! ) In all seriousness I thought this was a major problem for us and was one of the contributing factors to me swearing off FLL "for good". However, somehow they managed to absorb and assimilate all that we covered whilst rolling around on the floor and building strange Lego sculptures with mysterious purposes known only to them. One of our parents made an interesting observation at our tournaments. She pointed out that when the boys went to the table before their run they were all "goofy", dancing and spinning around without any apparent regard to the competition. When the referee called out “get ready”, they suddenly snapped to attention and for two and a half minutes ran their missions with more precision and accuracy than I had ever seen during practice. When the run was over, they were rolling around again. Kids operate differently than adults.

    And that leads me to my final point. I share many of your frustrations and have a few more to boot. But, as Paul Harvey would say, "now for the rest of the story".

    I watched as our very first robot run in our very first competition turned into a disaster. Mission after mission failed and the team came away with four points. I braced myself and tried to come up with some great piece of coaching wisdom to help the guys through the pain. As I approached the competition area the team came running up to me with huge smiles on their faces saying "we know what we need to do!" They bounded off to the practice table without any input from me and on their second run they scored over 60 points. As they headed out for their third run they told me they had a new strategy, they were going to run their missions in a different order. I stopped them and said, “Wait, that won't work. You designed the mission you are running second as your last mission - the robot doesn't return to base.” They grinned at me and said "we know, but we can pick it up!” “But you’ll get a penalty…” I replied, my voice trailing off as I slowly began to see what they were planning. “Yep, but but we'll be able to run the shark mission worth 27 more points!" It was a brilliant plan and they executed it flawlessly. They came away with the highest robot score at the competition.

    This was both one of my proudest moments and one of my most humbling experiences at the same time. The guys were able to think for themselves, problem solve, and strategize. They saw solutions where I saw problems.

    Midway through the season I was ready to give up. The boys didn't seem interested, didn't have a plan, and didn't have working missions. But that was my perspective, not theirs. They demonstrated at competition that they were far more capable than I had given them credit for. We are now on our way to the State competition.

    I don't think FLL is well structured for rookies coming in cold as we have done. I think many of the posts on this forum unintentionally aggravate the situation. But this is far and away the best program I have seen for school age kids. The integration of core values and the attempt to emphasize the positive aspects of competition while diminishing the negatives in a fun learning environment is fantastic.

    Watching our team in practice was painful. Watching them at competition was a joy. Getting a glimpse of the men they will become was a privilege.

    I haven't made a decision about next year yet, but I may yet rescind my oath to avoid FLL for all time.

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    • #32
      Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

      Originally posted by rwarford View Post
      This, this, this!!! This is what we newbies should be hearing every time a question about winning comes up. Winning is great. Growing (a.k.a. learning) is better. If you can manage to achieve both, good for you!
      Winning is not great, it is not important. I've coached the team that won the champions award at state and I've coached the team that finished dead last in a qualifier. In both cases the team had a great time. Both tournaments had thrills and spills, ups and downs. Only one team wins the competition, and given the odds it is not going to be the best team. Professional sports can't pick the best team out of 32, what chance does FLL have of doing that with 28,000 teams? I don't give a hoot if my teams do well in the competition or not. By the time we get to our tournament I've adjusted the team's attitude so they aren't going to care all that much either. They are going to compete really hard and they will celebrate if they win, but they are going to have fun if they win or not. Not needing or even caring much about winning does not mean I dislike competition. Competition is fun, and it is a great way to motivate my team. But winning is not required, it is just a potential outcome.

      Competition is fun. Winning is fun. Having a strong desire to win can be harnessed to achieve great things. Having a need to win is a mental disorder. Don't lose sight of why you do FLL, to get kids to love science and math. Use competition as a tool to achieve that goal.
      Last edited by Dean Hystad; 01-19-2017, 10:07 AM.

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      • #33
        Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

        Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
        Winning is not great, it is not important. I've coached the team that won the champions award at state and I've coached the team that finished dead last in a qualifier. In both cases the team had a great time. Both tournaments had thrills and spills, ups and downs. Only one team wins the competition, and given the odds it is not going to be the best team. Professional sports can't pick the best team out of 32, what chance does FLL have of doing that with 28,000 teams? I don't give a hoot if my teams do well in the competition or not. By the time we get to our tournament I've adjusted the team's attitude so they aren't going to care all that much either. They are going to compete really hard and they will celebrate if they win, but they are going to have fun if they win or not. Not needing or even caring much about winning does not mean I dislike competition. Competition is fun, and it is a great way to motivate my team. But winning is not required, it is just a potential outcome.

        Competition is fun. Winning is fun. Having a strong desire to win can be harnessed to achieve great things. Having a need to win is a mental disorder. Don't lose sight of why you do FLL, to get kids to love science and math. Use competition as a tool to achieve that goal.
        Disclaimer--this seems like word nitpicking, but some recent FIRST communications made me think about this a bit.

        I generally agree with Dean, but I don't know if I agree the claim that "FLL is to get kids to love science and math". I think it's a great goal and I think FIRST believes it, but I'm not sure it's actually true. I have a very limited view of a few teams out of the tens of thousands, but I suspect that FLL mostly appeals to kids that already like science and math. I think if you were designing a program to inspire kids that are math-ophobic or have no interest in science, you might design a different program. This isn't a knock in FIRST. I think it's fantastic that there are programs (FLL, FTC, FRC) to help kids learn real life skills through the vehicle of robot competitions.

        FIRST does seem to be putting effort into expanding it's reach (though the MI scheme doesn't fit the emails I get). I wonder if there will be program changes based on more focus on broader participation.

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        • #34
          Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

          FLL is the only program under the FIRST umbrella that does anything to get kids interested in science and math. It falls in the sweet spot (or the sour spot) of when kids begin to lose interest in science and math, particularly girls. By the time they get to FTC or FRC their course is set, but the youngest kids in FLL are still easily swayed. All you have to do is show them that science and math are useful and fun, not stupid and boring. More importantly you need to show them that math and science are tools for everyone to use, not something that is only done by "smart" people.

          I work with a lot of kids who have no particular draw to math or science. Some parents think this is a good program for their child's development. Some kids have a friend who is in FLL. Some kids think it will be playing with LEGO and they unwittingly fell into my clutches. We also have in-school programs and in-school tournaments where kids took the technology course instead of the arts course. My daughter came with me to judge tournaments and thought it looked like fun. There are all kinds of kids in FLL.

          I spent the most time with my girls. None of them were particularly drawn to math or science. Those subjects were fun, but not as much fun as art or sports. Now they are all engineering students in college. I regularly heard my daughter say "I love math" when she was doing her homework and didn't realize anyone is listening. All it takes is a little push at the right time. FLL is the kind of thing that can start an avalanche. Don't underestimate the impact this program has.
          Last edited by Dean Hystad; 01-19-2017, 03:03 PM.

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          • #35
            Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

            So FLL is a robotics competition that's not about winning a robotics competition.
            I think a better version of this statement is that "FLL is a robotics event that is not about wining a robotics competition". Doing your best is the goal. But you can't control anything about what the other team's "best" is.

            Quoting from GP1 is entirely appropriate if you're involved in the robot game. It's the first thing under where it says "The Robot Game Rules".
            FIRST LEGO League Mentor and Referee/Head Referee since 2011.

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            • #36
              Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

              Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
              FLL is the only program under the FIRST umbrella that does anything to get kids interested in science and math. It falls in the sweet spot (or the sour spot) of when kids begin to lose interest in science and math, particularly girls. By the time they get to FTC or FRC their course is set, but the youngest kids in FLL are still easily swayed. All you have to do is show them that science and math are useful and fun, not stupid and boring. More importantly you need to show them that math and science are tools for everyone to use, not something that is only done by "smart" people.

              I work with a lot of kids who have no particular draw to math or science. Some parents think this is a good program for their child's development. Some kids have a friend who is in FLL. Some kids think it will be playing with LEGO and they unwittingly fell into my clutches. We also have in-school programs and in-school tournaments where kids took the technology course instead of the arts course. My daughter came with me to judge tournaments and thought it looked like fun. There are all kinds of kids in FLL.

              I spent the most time with my girls. None of them were particularly drawn to math or science. Those subjects were fun, but not as much fun as art or sports. Now they are all engineering students in college. I regularly heard my daughter say "I love math" when she was doing her homework and didn't realize anyone is listening. All it takes is a little push at the right time. FLL is the kind of thing that can start an avalanche. Don't underestimate the impact this program has.
              I think that's great that FLL was able to do that for your kids. We joined because of the robotics...the Lego tie-in was just the icing. My kid does not like sports or music. He already loves math and science and wants to work with computers and robots. And I do not feel it is sufficiently focused on robotics, nor math and science. I guess I picked the wrong activity, as someone suggested. See, I thought that if you learn to work with other kids on a team, and think about solving problems and helping others, you would naturally learn core values, and wouldn't need to spend 1/3 of the time "thinking about core values." Sorry, but I think that's dumb.

              Also, I don't know if anyone saw my earlier post but I'm concerned that some coaches might let one group of kids only do the posters and not do the robot at all, based on their "strengths." I think that everyone needs to do the robot, since most parents and kids are signing up for that reason. They get plenty of poster making in school.

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              • #37
                Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                Know that you are not alone in your frustrations LegoMAMA. Our elementary school dropped their FLL program for EXACTLY the reasons you describe. I spoke the former coach prior to starting our team. I had hoped that I could somehow do better. I get the value and intent of the FLL approach. We've had some success. I've seen moments when everything worked perfectly - and I'm not talking about when we won trophies. Quite the opposite. The highlight of the season for me was when everything went wrong and the boys saw opportunity rather than failure.

                But frankly I see our season as a personal failure for myself. I've been unable to find a way to ignite a passion and excitement around any aspect of the program. If others somehow just hand a pile of legos and a laptop to a bunch of kids who somehow magically have the intrinsic motivation to "do their best" and get excited about math and science, well bully for them. My group of boys just aren't there. Give them a pile of legos and a laptop and they will half build some formless shape, get bored, toss it all aside and pick up their electronic devices and spend every remaining moment absorbed in a game.

                No doubt their will be a chorus of replies chastising me for being a bad parent - I should never have allowed my child to reach that point. Same for all of my neighbors apparently. That may well be the case - I have no defense against that charge.

                With a tremendous amount of time and effort, and with the help of my wife and her many decades experience teaching kids, I was able to find a few ways to reach the kids. They LOVED the core values aspect - the core values session was by far their favorite part of competition.

                But I am incapable of keeping their interest or maintaining any kind of real enthusiasm. I accept that as a personal shortcoming but I bristle at those who suggest it should just happen organically without any effort whatsoever.

                I think this forum is not a good place for rookie coaches. I lurked around a bit early in the season and came to the same conclusion. I stayed away for the bulk of the season but then returned hoping to find some nuggets of wisdom when our season was unexpectedly extended. That was counter-productive for me. I think the people here have good intentions but this forum is simply not helpful to rookies like me and, by the sound of it, not for you either.

                I think the FLL program could be great. If you wish to continue it I would encourage you to look around your area for seasoned coaches. Talk to them. My face-to-face conversations with experienced coaches have been much more helpful and realistic than anything I've found here. Again, I don't mean disrespect to anyone here - it just doesn't work for me. I suspect there are others like me, but I don't know for sure.

                Good luck. Keep looking for a program that will work for you and your child.

                Comment


                • #38
                  Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                  Agree with all of this!

                  Multiple experienced coaches keep saying here that FLL is not about the robot game, but I think the traffic in this forum (one of many indicators) belies that. The last post in the Project forum was a month ago. Coaches and teams are attracted to FLL for the robot game. The project seems to me like the interview round in a Miss America contest. Everybody pretends it is important but really, they're in it for the swimsuits.

                  Core values makes the engineering process more fair and enjoyable, but its stupid to make a poster about that. Really, is there a youth oriented competition that claims kids should NOT work together, be fair and enjoy the process? The core values are a given. At our tournaments (qualifying and regional) the core values judging was all about fake cheerleader-y spirit, complete with costumes and chants and give aways.




                  Originally posted by rwarford View Post
                  Know that you are not alone in your frustrations LegoMAMA. Our elementary school dropped their FLL program for EXACTLY the reasons you describe. I spoke the former coach prior to starting our team. I had hoped that I could somehow do better. I get the value and intent of the FLL approach. We've had some success. I've seen moments when everything worked perfectly - and I'm not talking about when we won trophies. Quite the opposite. The highlight of the season for me was when everything went wrong and the boys saw opportunity rather than failure.

                  But frankly I see our season as a personal failure for myself. I've been unable to find a way to ignite a passion and excitement around any aspect of the program. If others somehow just hand a pile of legos and a laptop to a bunch of kids who somehow magically have the intrinsic motivation to "do their best" and get excited about math and science, well bully for them. My group of boys just aren't there. Give them a pile of legos and a laptop and they will half build some formless shape, get bored, toss it all aside and pick up their electronic devices and spend every remaining moment absorbed in a game.

                  No doubt their will be a chorus of replies chastising me for being a bad parent - I should never have allowed my child to reach that point. Same for all of my neighbors apparently. That may well be the case - I have no defense against that charge.

                  With a tremendous amount of time and effort, and with the help of my wife and her many decades experience teaching kids, I was able to find a few ways to reach the kids. They LOVED the core values aspect - the core values session was by far their favorite part of competition.

                  But I am incapable of keeping their interest or maintaining any kind of real enthusiasm. I accept that as a personal shortcoming but I bristle at those who suggest it should just happen organically without any effort whatsoever.

                  I think this forum is not a good place for rookie coaches. I lurked around a bit early in the season and came to the same conclusion. I stayed away for the bulk of the season but then returned hoping to find some nuggets of wisdom when our season was unexpectedly extended. That was counter-productive for me. I think the people here have good intentions but this forum is simply not helpful to rookies like me and, by the sound of it, not for you either.

                  I think the FLL program could be great. If you wish to continue it I would encourage you to look around your area for seasoned coaches. Talk to them. My face-to-face conversations with experienced coaches have been much more helpful and realistic than anything I've found here. Again, I don't mean disrespect to anyone here - it just doesn't work for me. I suspect there are others like me, but I don't know for sure.

                  Good luck. Keep looking for a program that will work for you and your child.

                  Comment


                  • #39
                    Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                    Originally posted by Ozymandias View Post
                    Agree with all of this!

                    Multiple experienced coaches keep saying here that FLL is not about the robot game, but I think the traffic in this forum (one of many indicators) belies that. The last post in the Project forum was a month ago. Coaches and teams are attracted to FLL for the robot game. The project seems to me like the interview round in a Miss America contest. Everybody pretends it is important but really, they're in it for the swimsuits.

                    Core values makes the engineering process more fair and enjoyable, but its stupid to make a poster about that. Really, is there a youth oriented competition that claims kids should NOT work together, be fair and enjoy the process? The core values are a given. At our tournaments (qualifying and regional) the core values judging was all about fake cheerleader-y spirit, complete with costumes and chants and give aways.
                    People ask questions when they don't understand. The project is easy to understand. Why the gyro sensor is so weird is not easy to understand. Most FLL coaches are not engineers and they have a lot of questions about building and programming. Traffic about the robot game is up this year because the format for the rules changed drastically since last year and the number of official game updates dropped precipitously. There have been years with more project traffic, but it does tend to be lower than the robot related topics.

                    If you think FLL is a robotics competition I ask you to look at the schedule. Most FLL teams will work two to three months and compete in one tournament. They will run their robot in competition for seven and a half minutes. That is not a schedule for a competition. If you joined FLL looking for robotics competition I certainly understand being disappointed, but it's not like there is a big secret and you were hoodwinked.

                    Core values has little to do with spirit. Spirit is a separate award and lots of teams enjoy wearing funny costumes. My girls wore lab coats as a prop for their first presentation and ended up wearing them as their game day uniform for the next three years. They didn't want to be bothered thinking about team names or T-shirt designs. There are all kinds of kids in FLL. Core values judging looks at teamwork and how much you embrace and practice core values. The best way to win a core values award is through outreach. Mentor other teams or run a robotics workshop or organize a practice tournament. When we went to the US Open the teams up for the core values award were raising money to purchase robot sets for schools or setting up scholarships to provide funds for more teams to compete in FLL. Core values is not an award often won by rookie teams. It takes a while to "get it" and even longer to "do it".

                    Posters are a new thing. In the past a lot of teams would make visual aids for their research presentation. These were displayed in the pits area and you could wander around and see what all the other teams were doing for their project. I think the core values and RDES posters are attempts to have something similar for core values and robot design. A big part of FLL is sharing what you learn. The posters are fairly new, and we don't do them in Minnesota, so I cannot say how successful they are for sharing ideas. In Minnesota we allow teams to sit in on judging sessions. That is pretty effective and I see a lot of rookie teams sitting in at early tournaments.

                    I don't understand the purpose of this thread. Did all this frustration spontaneously erupt in the last couple weeks? Why aren't there earlier posts about these questions and concerns down in the "Coaching and Team Management" section where they belong? If you think the project thread is quiet, that thread is a graveyard. Thanks LEGOMAMA for uncorking the bottle. At least we know there are 3 frustrated coaches. From my rookie year I would expect the number to be closer to 3000. If folks were a little more active (less lurking, more posting) maybe there would be less frustration.
                    Last edited by Dean Hystad; 01-20-2017, 03:17 PM.

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                    • #40
                      Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                      Our elementary school dropped their FLL program for EXACTLY the reasons you describe.
                      I don't think elementary school is the target market for FLL. It's the earliest possible entry point, for kids who are ready for this type of activity. Not all kids are ready at age 9 or 10.
                      FIRST LEGO League Mentor and Referee/Head Referee since 2011.

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                      • #41
                        Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                        Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
                        Thanks LEGOMAMA for uncorking the bottle. At least we know there are 3 frustrated coaches. From my rookie year I would expect the number to be closer to 3000. If folks were a little more active (less lurking, more posting) maybe there would be less frustration.
                        I don't intrinsically enjoy the project, posters, funny costumes, etc. I do the core values stuff because it's important (and because I like teaching kids), and the robot game because I love it. Thankfully, I have a co-coach who manages the project-type stuff. If I had to run the project, oversee the posters, make silly hats, etc., I might have similar feelings to LegoMAMA. That's our key to success: splitting up the duties so that the leader of any given area enjoys it.

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                        • #42
                          Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                          Originally posted by Ozymandias View Post
                          ...
                          Core values makes the engineering process more fair and enjoyable, but its stupid to make a poster about that.
                          The teams I coached never made more than one poster (which was for the project). If our teams had to make two more posters for Core Values and Robot Design, we would not have been pleased. I hope the posters are proving useful in the regions that require them, but I'm glad our region doesn't require them.

                          Originally posted by Ozymandias View Post
                          At our tournaments (qualifying and regional) the core values judging was all about fake cheerleader-y spirit, complete with costumes and chants and give aways.
                          At our tournaments in MN it is the referees that award the "Team Spirit" award that care about costumes and cheerleading. That award does tend to go to teams with load cheering chants, and elaborate costumes, and the like.

                          For the "Core Values" award, team spirit is just one of 9 sections that make up the judging rubrics. It is one third of the "Inspiration" group. The other major groups are "Teamwork" and "Gracious Professionalism".

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                          • #43
                            Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                            Originally posted by LegoMAMA View Post
                            I think that's great that FLL was able to do that for your kids. We joined because of the robotics...the Lego tie-in was just the icing. My kid does not like sports or music. He already loves math and science and wants to work with computers and robots. And I do not feel it is sufficiently focused on robotics, nor math and science. I guess I picked the wrong activity, as someone suggested.
                            If you are looking for an activity is more purely robotics related, see if VEX Robotics is available in your area. FLL is not for everyone. It is certainly up to you to decide what is right for your family. Your feedback about FLL is valuable and appreciated.

                            Originally posted by LegoMAMA View Post
                            See, I thought that if you learn to work with other kids on a team, and think about solving problems and helping others, you would naturally learn core values, and wouldn't need to spend 1/3 of the time "thinking about core values." Sorry, but I think that's dumb.
                            I know some teams do practice "core values activities" that simulate the problems they are given during judging, but I don't believe most teams spend 1/3 of their time on that. I agree with you that core values are often things you naturally practice and learn. There are parts of core values in FLL that include outreach and helping other teams. Those activities do need to be scheduled and planned to make them happen.

                            Originally posted by LegoMAMA View Post
                            Also, I don't know if anyone saw my earlier post but I'm concerned that some coaches might let one group of kids only do the posters and not do the robot at all, based on their "strengths." I think that everyone needs to do the robot, since most parents and kids are signing up for that reason. They get plenty of poster making in school.
                            For most teams, kids take turns working with the robot and doing project-related activities. I think that is the best way to expose the kids to variety of things. I did have a team once where some of the kids choose to spend their almost all of their time on the project, because that's what they preferred. The decided they really didn't like programming and planning missions, but they still loved running the robot in competition.
                            Last edited by timdavid; 01-21-2017, 11:18 AM.

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                            • #44
                              Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                              Originally posted by timdavid View Post
                              If you are looking for an activity is more purely robotics related, see if VEX Robotics is available in your area. FLL is not for everyone.
                              Another program that allows teams to choose whether they want to do a project or just a robot game (which remains autonomous and still uses LEGO, unlike VEX), is World Robot Olympiad (WRO). The program is still growing in the US, but hugely popular internationally with a World Championship held in a new country each year. Open Category is a research project (which includes prototyping) and Regular Category is for the robot game. Students compete at three different age groups and the complexity of the programming required increases with the age of the students.

                              So, if FLL is not for you and you like the LEGO robots, look into this program.
                              Mentor: Not the Droids You Are Looking For - retired (World Festival Champion's 2018)
                              Judge: Western PA, World Festival, Razorback Open, Mountain State
                              Head Referee: Western PA Championships

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                              • #45
                                Re: Season feedback: Unfair competition and dumb posters.

                                Originally posted by Tom Mosher View Post
                                I don't think elementary school is the target market for FLL. It's the earliest possible entry point, for kids who are ready for this type of activity. Not all kids are ready at age 9 or 10.
                                Not all kids are "ready" at age 14. What does that matter? You work with what you've got. I've run teams entirely made up of 3rd graders and it turned out well. It was not the same FLL I do with 7th graders. They did a project appropriate for 3rd graders and their robot was fairly basic, but they had more fun than most older teams. I really want kids to start before 6th grade. When kids become teens the opportunity to keep them interested in STEM may be lost.

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