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  • Coach Involvement

    Before this year, there was a core value stating: "We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors". Of course, the core values have changed for this year. This value was removed.
    In past years and also this year, there is a category in the rubrics that says "Kids to the work - Appropriate balance between team responsibility and coach guidance."

    Using the RULES and handbooks (not, "I just feel..."), is it NOW not against the rules for the coaches or even mentors to do much of the work? Taken to an extreme, could a coach or mentor now be physically building and/or coding the robot out in the open during a qualifier, with no recourse possible from event organizers? Previously, event directors/head judges could disqualify a team for that extreme example.

  • #2
    Great question! There probably is not a clear statement in the current rules or the Coaches' Handbook that outlines what actions by a coach or mentor are unacceptable.

    There was some discussion in another thread about the rework of the core values and the Coaches' Handbook. The Core Values were seemingly reworked to bring them more in line with the FTC and FRC programs. The Coaches' Handbook has been reduced to most links to other resources. The expectation seems to be that coaches will register and look at the materials in the First Steps online course.

    https://forums.usfirst.org/forum/gen...ew-core-values


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    • #3
      Originally posted by timdavid View Post
      There was some discussion in another thread about the rework of the core values and the Coaches' Handbook.
      I did indeed see that, but it barely touched on my question.

      Originally posted by timdavid View Post
      Great question! There probably is not a clear statement in the current rules or the Coaches' Handbook that outlines what actions by a coach or mentor are unacceptable.
      My initial sentiment is what you said above.
      I'd love the thoughts of others too.

      Comment


      • #4
        ThomasTT , you aren't wrong. Going just from the rules (and FLL has a tendency to make lawyers out of all of us), I don't see anything that would disqualify a team if the coach did a lot of the work. I really hope it doesn't come to the point where you have coaches writing code or building robots at tournaments, but I suppose it could happen. It was my understanding that the re-write was to make the CV more in line with FTC/FRC, which is generally a good idea. Get the kids used to the CV in FLL, then there won't be any surprises when they advance to FTC/FRC.

        However, FTC & FRC do not seem to mind as much when coaches do significant amounts of work on the robots, so I personally feel this is a mistake. They do need to bring this back to FLL, in my opinion.
        Norfolk, Virginia, USA
        FLL Coach and Regional Tournament Head judge since 2014

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        • #5
          I'd like FLL to bring back the "Coaches' Promise", which used to be on the inside cover of the old Coaches' Handbook.

          http://fll.larobotics.org/resources/...es+Promise.pdf

          The first three items were:

          1) The children come first. FLL is about the children having fun and getting excited about science and technology. Everything my team does starts and ends with this principle.

          2) The children do the work. This is their opportunity to learn and grow. The children on my team do all of the programming, research, problem solving, and building. Adults can help them find the answers, but cannot give them answers or make decisions.

          3) My team is comprised of ten or fewer members (all team members participate on only one team), registered as an official FLL team, and all team members are no older than 14 on January 1st of the Challenge year.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by SkipMorrow View Post
            Going just from the rules (and FLL has a tendency to make lawyers out of all of us), I don't see anything that would disqualify a team if the coach did a lot of the work.
            In an email sent out by the regional partner prior to qualifier tournaments this season, teams in my region (North Texas) were told that, among other things, coaches or other adults seen handling a robot, attachments, computer, posters, costumes, props, etc would be given a Core Values Red Flag Penalty (or something similar) which would disqualify the team from all awards and advancement. The one exception was in the case of a logging onto or rebooting a computer, in which case coaches were urged to have a judge, ref or at least another coach present to ensure that the adult was only helping to get the computer back to the state where the kids could do the work. We had to get special permission to allow an adult to help carry the cart we use to transport our robots and laptop up a set of stairs to get to the robot design judging room (lots of young, not terribly tall or strong kids on my team). So, while it might not have been specifically called out in the official rules, at least at the tournaments in my region it was very clear that the adults were not to be doing any of the work. I was surprised to see it worded so strongly and so specifically enforced (adults can't carry a poster through the halls?) but I guess there was at least one issue in a previous tournament which caused the rule to be written (at least one of the other tournament rules was written specifically because of something I'd done in the past, so that makes sense.)


            --
            Fort Worth Robotics - North Texas Region Team #455
            Technical coach, baker of the cookies, keeper of the time, transporter of the travel field walls, finder of the spare parts, maker of the pop culture references that only the other tall people understand.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by gt0163c View Post

              In an email sent out by the regional partner prior to qualifier tournaments this season, teams in my region (North Texas) were told that, among other things, coaches or other adults seen handling a robot, attachments, computer, posters, costumes, props, etc would be given a Core Values Red Flag Penalty (or something similar) which would disqualify the team from all awards and advancement. The one exception was in the case of a logging onto or rebooting a computer, in which case coaches were urged to have a judge, ref or at least another coach present to ensure that the adult was only helping to get the computer back to the state where the kids could do the work. We had to get special permission to allow an adult to help carry the cart we use to transport our robots and laptop up a set of stairs to get to the robot design judging room (lots of young, not terribly tall or strong kids on my team). So, while it might not have been specifically called out in the official rules, at least at the tournaments in my region it was very clear that the adults were not to be doing any of the work. I was surprised to see it worded so strongly and so specifically enforced (adults can't carry a poster through the halls?) but I guess there was at least one issue in a previous tournament which caused the rule to be written (at least one of the other tournament rules was written specifically because of something I'd done in the past, so that makes sense.)

              This is the kind of stupidity that drives coaches to do nothing and results in teams learning nothing.

              I have a love/hate relationship with "Kids do the work". It is the best guiding principle ever and the worst rule. Unfortunately too many see it as a rule. I ignnore it as a judging category and replace it with my own caregory "Robotics knowledge". I care that a coach made mistakes, and I will try to correct that, but I won't compound the injury to the team by lowering their evaluation. It would be one thing if it were clearly documented what coaches can and cannot do, but that has never been the case in FLL. Even then I don't see why I should punish children for the actions of their coach.

              No touching robots or computers at a tournament sounds like an overreaction to complaints from overzealous police parents. It is designed to prevent an uncomfortable confrontation, not improve coaching. I must confess that if this rule was in affect at our tournaments none of my teams would ever advance. I touch the robot all the time. I touch the computer. I sort parts to reduce anxiety. I show young siblings how to build "battle tops" or grabber arms out of LEGO. I refuse to change how I act just because we are at a tournament. I refuse to make my team think they did something wrong when i showed them that a rigid beam connection requires two pins or when I showed them how to grab wires and move them in the editor.
              Last edited by Dean Hystad; 01-15-2019, 08:22 AM.

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              • #8
                Agree that "zero tolerance" approaches are rarely the answer. Event officials use things like that, just as Dean says to avoid confrontation and to avoid having to actually render a judgement of what the kids actually know.

                "In my experience..." - most events seem to have warm or non frigid bodies for volunteer judges, or the ones with too much heat, come with ugly baggage from their own teams or coaching experiences. Few events (again in my encounters) have a Dean or some sane arbitrator able to assess a team's true robotics knowledge.

                Judge "certification" seems to stress more about procedure than content, but was perhaps an attempt at getting deeper into it.


                As a ref, I admonish coaches that "coach" during the robot game. Sure, cheer em on, calm them down, rev them up - but don't tell em what program to run or what to do with that yellow bar sticking up off their bot. But as I age, I seem to worry less about this. Other than perhaps appeasing some "other" team that thinks that team is getting unfair guidance, I am doing little to help that team or that coach. Maybe a quiet chat to the side, dunno. Sure, it irks me - mostly as a parent/coach not as a ref, to see another adult "rob" experiences away from kids to face all these challenges themselves. But agree, that more "rules" and "event mandates", are not really helping.

                I do think coaches should be quite involved. You can't just dump LEGO on the table and walk in 45 minutes later with cookies and expect a working bot. The amount of involvement I think would be high in the beginning, more teaching and shared experiments with the basics of building, programming, strategizing. Then less and less as the season progresses and work on actual FLL tasks ensues. Should every team (coach/kid combo) have the same curve? Nah, everyone is different, you have to match up to what is handed you. But yea, coaches should avoid situations where their team can just "copy" something - be that a coach creation or YT video or last year's bot, etc. That is theft. No, I am not saying the kids are stealing another's creation...the coach is robbing the kids of the experience to all this problem solving and other experiences.

                If you do that, you are back to most school classroom tactics. Memorize/copy X and give it back later on some test. None of it to ever really sink in and make a difference.

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                • #9
                  I struggle with this myself. I feel that the rules are hazy, and I think it would be very useful for there to be a set of acceptable and unacceptable examples --- not to be used as filters to disqualify teams, but as guidelines to those coaches trying hard not to step over the boundaries.

                  When I read the rule, "the kids do the work," I don't take this to mean, "the kids teach themselves." I think it's important to remember that the contest is secondary and education has to come first. That means educations in persistence, grit, programming, engineering, etc. Sometimes the right thing to do is say nothing, other times you really have to step up and give a lecture. I've come up with a few rules for myself that I use to filter my own participation:

                  1) If I want to tell the kids something, is it a general engineering or programming principle that is used repeatedly year after year, or is it knowledge specific to a mission? I say that if the task is recurrent year after year then the task is a task that is fair game to teach engineering principles about. I believe the FLL materials support this view point. The manual suggests you either build the simple educational robot that is detailed in the EV3 educational kit, or you look up a "core" robot on the net to build. The EV3 tutorials include sections on how to write line followers, how to calibrate sensors, how to stop at a line, etc. All of these tasks happen year after, and I have no problem teaching the kids how to do these things. If you teach a child how to follow a line, that will NOT solve any specific mission. If you build a core robot (that is, one with no attachments), as a class and teach good engineering principles during the process, I don't see how this is worse than looking up some random robot online and copying it.

                  2) If I'm trying to prod them in a certain direction, is the direction I am guiding them toward furthering their future ability to solve the problem themselves, or is it prodding them toward a certain solution I see in my mind? I think children require guidance. It's important the guidance push them toward asking questions themselves, rather than leading them down a pre-chosen path.

                  3) If I'm answering a question from the kids, is the question one that could be reasonably looked up without specifically searching for another team's FLL solution? Research is encouraged. I see no reason why the coach/mentors can not serve as a source of knowledge.

                  As I final check, I ask myself this question: will the kids be better engineers in one year if I DO tell them this, or if I DON'T tell them this?


                  Examples:

                  If the kids are programming, I think it's fair game to teach them all about writing functions (myblocks) and how to keep their code neat, organized, and readable. I think it's totally fine to say, "you should put that code in a myblock to improve readability." I think it's fine to teach them about loops, interthread communication, etc.

                  I think it's fine to help them with any EV3 "features" that are hard to understand. Why like a kid struggle with the fact that the invert motor block doesn't work on drive blocks?

                  Teaching the kids to write myblocks that convert distance and angles to motor degrees is totally fair game in my mind. Again, this is a task that comes up year after year and can easily be looked up online without searching for a specific FLL solution.

                  Showing the kids how the legos can be connected together to form certain design patterns (like how the legos are odd in length, so any structures you build you should generally try to make odd in length. How to select gears for certain distances, how bevel gears work, etc., etc.) In my mind, the challenge is not about "how to build with legos", it's about how to solve the missions. I'm not going to let a child struggle to build an idea he has -- i'll build an example or two of the basic thing he's trying to accomplish OFF ROBOT, then disassemble it, and let him go work on the robot. (How do I make an arm go up and down? Here, let's see how we can use this linear slide with some gears to make it work.) This is the most tricky one because there's a fine line between, "I have this idea, show me how to build it," and, "I'm stuck because I can't figure out how bevel gears work."

                  One of my kids is very good at math, so last year I taught him how to use trigonometry to calculate what angle his robot crosses a black line at and use that information to square the robot up to a black line. This year I'm teaching him about acceleration and how to get his robot to accelerate and decelerate so that it ends up at a specific distance. Per #1, these are general tasks that appear year after year. Per #2, I'm trying to prod this student to think more about how math applies to robotics. Per #3, you can easily look up the 4 kinematic equations and how to apply them. And the final check... will be teaching a 9-year-old the 4 kinematic equations and how to apply them result in him being a better engineer in one year than not teaching him this? Undoubtedly, yes.

                  I'm interested to see what other people have to say about my method of deciding if something is fair game. Do you guys think I'm stepping over the bounds, or do these sound like good rules to you?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I work really hard to not teach the team anything. I will not teach a team about my blocks, but I will ask what that empty pallet is for and ask why someone would want to make their own block. It usually doesn't take long for someone to write the same code two or three times, providing an opportunity to revisit that my block thing and see if we can use it instead of the duplicated code. After that it doesn't take long for someone to use almost the same code in a couple of places and you look at that my block stuff again and see how you can pass in parameters so you don't need a 90 degree turn block and a 180 degree turn block, you can have a N degree turn block that works for both.

                    Speaking of turning, I would never teach a team how to write a turn or a drive for distance block, but I might ask where they got the duration numbers for a 90 degree turn. Why does the motor have to turn for 117 degrees or 68 degrees or whatever when you want the robot to turn 90 degrees? What is the shape of a path the wheels follow while making a turn? Do we know how to calculate the distance the wheel travels? Is there some kind of math that tells us the outside distance of a circle? Oh, is that what circumference means?

                    I understand why coaches do not want to coach this way. It is really hard and really slow. Many teams will not have enough time to discover everything themselves, no matter how carefully they are guided by the coach. But when you do have the time to let teams discover things for themselves the learning is deeper and lasts longer.

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                    • #11
                      I'm disappointed --- it looks to me like you think my approach is too heavy-handed. I'll be interested to see if more people agree with you.

                      I can understand wanting the kids to learn, but to me, there is such a thing as "meeting kids where they are at." If you have 7th graders on your team, I think it's totally reasonable to expect them to work out the math for an arbitrary angle turn totally on their own. But if you have 4th graders on your team, is it really reasonable to say, "Now that you've figured out how to turn 90 degrees, can you figure out how to turn any angle you want?"

                      I tried last year to follow your approach for the first month, but what I found was the kids were just getting nowhere and learning nothing. The math was too far beyond them without some assistance getting there.

                      That's the whole reason why I struggle with how much is too much. What's the point in showing up weekly to a club where the kids learn nothing and are frustrated by the end?

                      I think not allowing basic things to be taught opens a whole can of serious dilemmas. Do you think kids should be forbidden from watching youtube tutorials online that teach you how to follow lines or how to write turn myblocks? What do you say when a kid turns up that's already watched all those videos on his own time and wants to join the team? Is that knowledge forbidden to be used by that kid? What do you say to your kids when the other teams show up having watched a ton of youtube videos online and build a crazy robot that's amazing? Or worse, just downloaded some other team's myblock and learned nothing from it?

                      What's the point of making an engineering notebook to share with other teams if they can't learn from it? What is Coopertition if the kids aren't allowed to learn from others? Is the lesson we want to teach these children, "it's not right to ask a more experienced person for help?" No engineer in the real world sets out to solve problems and forbids himself to look at what has come before. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.
                      Last edited by cwm9; 09-28-2019, 12:09 AM.

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                      • #12
                        I didn't say anything about you. I said what I do. As long as you don't design the robot or write the programs I don't care what you do. The only people who shold care about how you coach are you and your team. If the team is associating STEM with fun you are a successful coach. If the team learns something along the way that the don't forget in a few years, that is gravy. I want my teams to learn that science and math are tools normal people can use to solve all kinds of problems. That lesson might stick.

                        I get plenty of complaints about how I coach. Usually from my co-coaches who think my meetings are too chaotic and would like some kind of schedule. They would like a bit more engineering and a bit less discovery. More like you describe, and I don't mean anything bad by that.

                        The whole standing on shoulders thing has bee beaten to death in this forum. I think it is a nice platitude that doesn't apply. We don't need giants to solve the robot game. Heck, we don't even need to solve the robot game. What we need is kids having fun working on solutions io the robot game. I think those kids have more fun and more pride when they think up a new idea (new to them) instead of copying from a utube video.

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                        • #13
                          Well, I'm glad to hear you think what I'm doing isn't too far out there. And for the record, I'm not trying to put down your approach at all -- as I said, I tried exactly what you're doing now last year. It just didn't work out for us. I think with time and experience the kids will become more and more independent.

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                          • #14
                            I think FLL has coaches for a reason -- kids need guidance. I have only 4th and 5th graders and I also try hard to walk that line between helping them with what they need and giving them too much. I think FLL is also leaning toward teaching and giving a little based on the fact that they posted info, including a program, for solving the crane mission. My team got stuck and hasn't really made any progress in the past 2 weeks (partly because we're trying to learn a new coding system), so we sat down together and made a list of everything that they want to learn how to do to make the robot do what they want. I didn't include any of their mission specific requests, but steered the conversation towards those non-mission-specific skills, like how to stop on a black line of make the robot turn. Some of the things on the list I will just nudge them toward figuring it out and other things I will work to learn with them (since I don't know either).

                            There is a line between too much help and not enough help. We can agree to disagree on where that line is. In the end, we are all in this to make the experience good for kids and expand their horizons and future prospects. If they learn and have fun, then we're doing something right.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Tim Carey View Post
                              There is a line between too much help and not enough help.
                              Actually, I think there is very wide range of appropriate help, sandwiched in the middle between too much help and not enough help. Both the approaches described by Dean and by cwm9 are appropriate. Which one a coach adopts may be influenced by their overall goals for the kids and for the team.

                              I think it is fine for a coach to teach some basic techniques and concepts. Just try to make the sure the teaching is appropriate to the experience level of the kids. Don't try to teach PID line following to kids who can barely use a Move block. Give the kids some time to learn and absorb concepts.

                              Originally posted by Tim Carey View Post
                              In the end, we are all in this to make the experience good for kids and expand their horizons and future prospects. If they learn and have fun, then we're doing something right.
                              I agree 100%.

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