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  • Getting the kids to work together

    Hello-

    Looking for some advice on how to get my team to work together more instead of each being individual contributors. We are a 2nd year team composed of 4 from last year's team, 3 from a different team last year, and 3 new kids. Most are 6th graders.

    Most meetings I run a teamwork game, and frequently over half of them work individually to solve the problem. I think I've got a handle on that, and will choose games in the future that make the teamwork aspect more crucial. A few of them I picked were designed for teamwork, but had possible independent solutions.

    However, at our last meeting, I had three kids who were going to be our programming team. I gave them a list of myblocks to try writing. At the same time I had to lead 3 kids who were evaluating robot designs. The programming kids each tried writing the given my block for a minute or two, then came to me saying they were stuck. They hadn't consulted with their peers despite my instruction to do so. They also worked on three separate computers on three separate files. They're treating it like homework, where they'll each be graded on their individual effort.

    This next meeting I'm going to try reiterating that we need just one output, putting another adult supervising them (none of the other parents know programming, so just to keep them on task), and taking away all but 1 computer.

    Any other thoughts?

    Korey

  • #2
    Re: Getting the kids to work together

    Do you review the results of the teamwork exercise? After we do a teamwork exercise I tell the team what I think went well and what didn't. Then I ask them for ideas on what they could do to be more effective next time.

    Our very first teamwork exercise is one that continues on throughout the season; There is no hand raising in FLL. It's not my job to decide who gets to speak when. Everyone needs to develop the self control and awareness to decide when speaking up will benefit the team and when it is a distraction. If you are a team in Minnesota I suggest practicing this one at every meeting because I like to spring it on unsuspecting teams when I judge.

    I get the homework thing. At the end of each meeting I gave the lads a logic problem to solve for the next meeting. About halfway through the first assignment I sent an email asking them to include me in any correspondence involving solving the homework assignment. When one of the lads responded "I didn't know we were supposed to work on this together" (bless his soul for the perfect setup line) I got to reply "Unless I tell you different, we always work as a team on everything."

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Getting the kids to work together

      Thanks for the always good advice Dean. I'm going to implement the no-hand-raising thing right away. I was surprised in last year's robot design judging that they raised their hand for the judge to call on. I needed a way to prevent that as well!

      We do review our exercises, and sometimes I redo the same one some time later with enough of a twist that they can't reuse the same solution.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Getting the kids to work together

        My team is struggling a bit with communication on Core Values activities this year as well. It is a team of 3 returning team members and 3 rookies so a nice compliment of experience and new ideas. I try to do an activity every practice to work on these aspects and then we discuss what we did well and what we need to improve upon after each. However, this year I noticed that the initial planning portion and communication are chaotic and not improving. At our last practice they were given an activity and we broke down each step. First, I had them understand the task and discuss a plan and my co-coach and I commented, then they had to try to implement the solution and we commented, etc. This particular activity also required them to choose 3 of the 6 members to actually physically move an object, which was hard - everybody wanted to be the one. It was of great value and they all said it helped to have us stop them at each stage and offer feedback.

        Good luck with your season.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Getting the kids to work together

          Some great suggestions here. One thing I would add that I do with my team is that early on in the season, when they're doing team building challenges, I will stop them when I see something that is them blatantly not working together as a team (taking pieces out of someone else's hands, not listening, talking over each other, yelling, one person withdrawing and not being a part of the activity, etc) and explain to them what I'm seeing and ask how that's not work together as a team (or something) and ask what would be a better way to handle the situation. By stopping them immediately when it's happening and brainstorming better options they seem to learn quicker how to recognize when they're not working together and how to correct that.

          Also, when I give them a challenge, particularly one that's timed, I emphasize that HOW they solve the challenge (through teamwork) is more important than that they actually solve the challenge. Sometimes, if they don't complete a challenge one week within the given time, I'll give it to them again the next week. This gives them another chance to solve the problem and feel the accomplishment of making it work but also gives them a chance to focus more working together than on trying to figure out the best way to solve the challenge. I don't do it all the time, but do try to do it at least once a season, particularly with more involved or difficult challenges.
          --
          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


          • #6
            Re: Getting the kids to work together

            Originally posted by gt0163c View Post
            when I see something that is them blatantly not working together as a team (taking pieces out of someone else's hands, not listening, talking over each other, yelling, one person withdrawing and not being a part of the activity, etc)
            I have told some teams that there are "Mystery shopper" Judges that walk through the tournament venue and will report negative behaviour such as this to the Core Value Judges and it can have a negative influence on their overall ranking. Of course, I also told them that the Mystery Shopper Judges would report examples of exemplary behaviour, to their benefit. While I have only known of 1 or 2 tournaments where there were Mystery Shopper Judges, the team members seemed to understand that they could be at their next tournament and have typically made efforts to improve their behaviour. I have seen instances where, during deliberations, the Core Values Judges were given input about a team (positive and negative) from other Judges as well as the Head Referee.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Getting the kids to work together

              I'm a bit leery using threats and tricks to encourage good behavior. I know they work, but what message does it send when you tell your team they should be gracious and cooperative because you never know when someone might be looking? Doesn't that indicate that core values are more performance art than deep held beliefs?

              I try to play it straight with my kids. FLL core values are a good list of suggestions which when practiced will help us when we work together as a team and when we interact with other teams. I don't have a "There is no hand raising in FLL" rule because being aware of your teammates and not trying to talk over each other will impress judges. I have the rule so that they will be aware of each other, listen to each other, and that will make them work better as a team. We don't do core value exercises so the team will be prepared for the tournament. We perform the exercises so the team will see the benefits of asking questions before jumping into a task, of discussing how they are going to approach solving a problem before they begin solving a problem, and become more efficient at working together. We use core values in everything we do not because that sounds like a good thing to tell the core values judge, but because core values work.

              During their last couple years of FLL the girls did a lot of mentoring. They worked at the rookie camp. They helped out at programming classes. We traveled around the metro area attending other team's meetings to help out where we could. If I got a request to help out a team they nearly always volunteered to come along. They didn't do this to bump up their core values score, they didn't even mention their volunteer work during the interview because that would be bragging, and bragging doesn't fit in with core values (the Midwestern interpretation). They did it because they saw a need that they could fulfill. It made them happy, and it made me happy to work with such good kids. They are special, but they aren't unusual. There are a lot of teams that help. They make websites to share their knowledge. They organize scrimmages. They mentor rookie teams. There are a lot of good, special kids in FLL. I don't know if FLL attracts them or makes them that way.

              The robot game has the glamor. The research presentation can be a lot of fun. But when it comes for the most bang for the buck nothing comes close to core values. If you really get core values it helps you with everything else.
              Last edited by Dean Hystad; 10-10-2016, 02:11 PM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Getting the kids to work together

                Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
                If you really get core values it helps you with everything else.
                Yes!

                I also like to point out to my team where I use the Core Values in my every day life. I talk about some of the silly things I do with my friends. I'm a part of a group of women who are trying to experience every women's summer Olympic event. We could be competing when we do these events, but we're more interested in what we learn and in helping each other figure out the best way to get up on a wind surfing board (to give a recent example) and cheering for each other in our small successes (We learn together, what we learn is more important than what we win, gracious professionalism). When I went to Adult Space Camp last year, I found the core values running through my head almost continually and I shared examples of those when I returned.

                I also use examples from my work. I'm an aerospace engineer who works at a very recognizable company in the area...sometimes our planes fly overhead when we are meeting. I share examples of working together as a team, of learning together and the leaders not having all the answers, the importance of documenting your code (it's not an FLL Core Value but it's close in importance). Showing that I, an engineer working in a field that some of them want to go into (or at least adjacent to the field they want to go into) use the FLL Core Values regularly helps show the importance of them not just for this competition that they're doing as middle school kids but in real life and real work. And, equally as important, I can tell them when we have failed to apply the Core Values and how badly we've fallen on our faces and encourage them to learn these things early and get used to applying them so they can avoid our mistakes (and go off an make new ones of their own).
                --
                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


                • #9
                  Re: Getting the kids to work together

                  Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
                  I'm a bit leery using threats and tricks to encourage good behavior. I know they work, but what message does it send when you tell your team they should be gracious and cooperative because you never know when someone might be looking? Doesn't that indicate that core values are more performance art than deep held beliefs?

                  I try to play it straight with my kids. FLL core values are a good list of suggestions which when practiced will help us when we work together as a team and when we interact with other teams. I don't have a "There is no hand raising in FLL" rule because being aware of your teammates and not trying to talk over each other will impress judges. I have the rule so that they will be aware of each other, listen to each other, and that will make them work better as a team. We don't do core value exercises so the team will be prepared for the tournament. We perform the exercises so the team will see the benefits of asking questions before jumping into a task, of discussing how they are going to approach solving a problem before they begin solving a problem, and become more efficient at working together. We use core values in everything we do not because that sounds like a good thing to tell the core values judge, but because core values work.

                  During their last couple years of FLL the girls did a lot of mentoring. They worked at the rookie camp. They helped out at programming classes. We traveled around the metro area attending other team's meetings to help out where we could. If I got a request to help out a team they nearly always volunteered to come along. They didn't do this to bump up their core values score, they didn't even mention their volunteer work during the interview because that would be bragging, and bragging doesn't fit in with core values (the Midwestern interpretation). They did it because they saw a need that they could fulfill. It made them happy, and it made me happy to work with such good kids. They are special, but they aren't unusual. There are a lot of teams that help. They make websites to share their knowledge. They organize scrimmages. They mentor rookie teams. There are a lot of good, special kids in FLL. I don't know if FLL attracts them or makes them that way.

                  The robot game has the glamor. The research presentation can be a lot of fun. But when it comes for the most bang for the buck nothing comes close to core values. If you really get core values it helps you with everything else.
                  It's great when you have team members who understand the Core Values and why one should follow those principles. Some team members seem to be "born with it" but many have to learn it. For those team members who might not have the maturity to understand the benefits of following those principles, we tell them what the possible consequences are and leave it up to them to make up their own minds. This is just like telling them what the consequences are for not following the FLL Robot Game Rules or the rules in a soccer game. It would be a disservice to not tell a team member what the consequences of their actions could be. Is it bad if a team member follows the Core Values as "performance art" long enough that they "get it" and it becomes a habit? Isn't FIRST about changing culture?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Getting the kids to work together

                    I'll echo the comments of those stressing CV over everything else. As an engineer who love Legos, my first few years as a coach we overemphasized the robot game. Then we wised up a tiny bit and started emphasizing the research project more. Finally I figured out that building CV, and the resulting teamwork spirit that evolves from it, makes EVERYTHING else go much better. These past two seasons, we've spent a lot more time on team-building exercises and discussing CV, and the results are remarkable. From a purely selfish standpoint, I'm a lot less frustrated trying to "push a rope". From a team performance perspective, they have been more willing to take ownership of the team. I can't say we're a top performing team yet, but I can see a path to there.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Getting the kids to work together

                      Hi Korey99,

                      When an FLL coach asks for a suggestion about making the kids work together better, that is kind of like having a race horse owner say that he wants his horse to run faster. Working together isn't a just a third of one of the rubrics, it is the heart of the game, the biggest reason to play, and should be the greatest thing a coach can ever see in his team. You're asking about the right topic here, and you're getting great answers from the best people here.

                      There is certainly no one best way to coach. What I'll offer to you has worked well for me, with my own personal set of strengths and weaknesses. I describe it as "Infectious Enthusiasm." Walk in the room on the first day, treat the game as if it were the most fun ever in the universe, expect great things from each kid, and never look back. Every single second, look for ways to call and verbally reward teamwork and other good behavior. Never allow the first bit of "me-me-me" in the room, not even once. Celebrate your own mistakes, admit them, and praise the kid who found the problem. It is okay to be exuberant, at least sometimes. Encourage hugs and high fives, but never allow the first bit of physical horseplay that looks like fighting.

                      Here are some simple tricks that you might add to your toolkit, without applying the full raving insanity that is my coaching style:

                      Coach each kid, OFTEN, to make eye contact with the judge, shoulders back, speak with confidence. But also coach the two kids beside him to look back and forth from the judges to the speaking child, and then nod in agreement at the end. Is this a gimmick, a fake? Maybe, but these are young kids and after a while it catches on and becomes very real.

                      The method my teams have for adding movement blocks while programming a mission has a child or two at the table, moving the 'bot and reading numbers out. Another child is at the computer, putting the numbers into the block. Formalize this process, "call and respond," as if they were sending life saving information over a bad radio connection with military discipline. "That's 240 on the C motor, and 120 on the B motor." "I heard Two-Four-Oh on C, and positive One-Two-Oh on B." When one child remembers to say "Holy cow, hit the save button," the right response is "The asterisk is gone, Sir!"

                      Choose your fun core value training activities carefully. Obviously, not one where individuals can win the game. Put a one foot square of tape on the floor, and make all the kids stand in at one time. They'll be holding onto each other, balancing as a team. If all ten of them can't do it at first, maybe three can, and they get rewarded verbally, then a 4th tries to join in. Who is willing to have their foot be on the floor, with other kids' feet on top if theirs? When they start making progress, give them Helium Sticks. If they pass Helium sticks, they're ready for Qualifier.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Getting the kids to work together

                        Originally posted by Rbbbbb View Post
                        The method my teams have for adding movement blocks while programming a mission has a child or two at the table, moving the 'bot and reading numbers out. Another child is at the computer, putting the numbers into the block. Formalize this process, "call and respond," as if they were sending life saving information over a bad radio connection with military discipline. "That's 240 on the C motor, and 120 on the B motor." "I heard Two-Four-Oh on C, and positive One-Two-Oh on B." When one child remembers to say "Holy cow, hit the save button," the right response is "The asterisk is gone, Sir!"
                        This might be helpful for teamwork, but it's a horrible wast of resources. The robot is required for testing, you shouldn't need it at all for programming. If I see a team using the sensor view for something other than diagnostic purposes I make them stand in the corner (not true).

                        We use the robot in a completely different way to promote teamwork. The robot is a valuable shared resource. If you don't absolutely need the robot it is your responsibility to find someone who'll make better use of it. To increase efficiency team members have to talk to each other about their schedule and find out when the robot is available. The team I worked with most is a long way from maximum efficiency, but I did get them to not Bogart the robot while writing programs. It is common at our meetings to hear "I need a robot." followed by "You can use this one, we're done for now." It warms my heart to hear them working for the common good. Given enough time I can turn any team into good little communists.
                        Last edited by Dean Hystad; 12-14-2016, 11:51 AM.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Getting the kids to work together

                          Originally posted by Dean Hystad View Post
                          This might be helpful for teamwork, but it's a horrible wast of resources. The robot is required for testing, you shouldn't need it at all for programming.
                          This is a good point. The "call and respond" method I've taught them just happens to hit my kids' style well. A 10 person team, (which is too many,) they like to work in pairs or triples, and their particular style of knowing how far to move on each block uses the robot as a puppet. They use something similar to Port View, and push the robot to the next destination, read the numbers, and put those numbers into a movement MyBlock.

                          I am NOT advocating this as best practice, but it's one good method. Some of my members were siblings at the elbows of my older team who started the method, and so it was what they did on Day 1 when they were itty-bitty third graders. I will say that for a really young team, it was a very easy way to get at least two of them to work together in easy roles.

                          (By the way, if a team does this, PLEASE tell them to move the wheels and NOT to shove down hard on top of the robot and move it like a toy truck. Reasons.)

                          OTOH, the basic "call and respond" idea? I'll stand by it. Clear communications, fewer mistakes, a tone of serious focus but fun. I myself am somewhat unsubtle and oblivious, not good starting material for this job as coach. I find myself giving them tools and tricks to actually accomplish being good clear team mates and leaders. It's working, the kids are leaving my teams with abilities that vastly exceed mine. Except in math, I can still take the little blighters in math, most of them can't even do basic calculus yet.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Getting the kids to work together

                            Originally posted by Rbbbbb View Post
                            This is a good point. The "call and respond" method I've taught them just happens to hit my kids' style well. A 10 person team, (which is too many,) they like to work in pairs or triples, and their particular style of knowing how far to move on each block uses the robot as a puppet. They use something similar to Port View, and push the robot to the next destination, read the numbers, and put those numbers into a movement MyBlock.
                            Why not have a MyBlock that takes inches or centimeters as input? Your kids can then use measuring tape instead of the robot to lay out robot movements.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Getting the kids to work together

                              Originally posted by dnb View Post
                              Why not have a MyBlock that takes inches or centimeters as input? Your kids can then use measuring tape instead of the robot to lay out robot movements.
                              Highly recommended. This makes mission planning and execution much less frustrating, and even encourages good programming practices.

                              I also recommend using a robot "stand-in" in conjunction with this technique. The stand-in is simply a block of LEGOs about the same size and shape as the real robot. The kids can move it around the board to make sure the planned path will fit around any obstacles. If you get more sophisticated, you can place attachment points on the stand-in, so you can get your attachments working with the board models without the use of the robot.

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