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  • #46
    Originally posted by brian@kidbrothers.net View Post
    Okay, this is making more sense now. Evidently, there's a whole different world of FLL than I'm operating in. Here in Michigan, we received the kits in mid-August. 16 of the tournaments in the state have already taken place, so those teams had 3 months available. The remaining 7 tournaments will take place next weekend, so those teams will have 3.5 months. All teams are made up entirely of 4th or 5th graders, so all kids are either 9 years old, 10 years old, or a few that have just turned 11. So, things being described here like a team with 4 or 5 or 8 months to prepare -- that simply doesn't exist here. Or teams that have 3 or 4 years of experience -- that simply doesn't exist here. And training for coaches? If it's available here, I'm not aware of it. All teams have ~3 months. And all teams are in one of two categories -- either rookies or "veterans" with one year of prior experience. All coaches are figuring it out as we go along.

    So, these conversations about teams that are able to complete all the missions in 2:10 or teams that wouldn't find the robot game a challenge because they had too much time to spare or the problem of the top teams in the world all earning near perfect scores -- those kinds of things are just completely outside my experience last season or this season. To the point that I didn't know those teams even existed.

    But, I'm not trying to coach an "elite" team to compete at the world tournament. I'm just trying to coach a group of really smart kids who did well enough at the qualifying tournament last weekend to advance to the state tournament, and I'm trying to help them do their best when they get there! :>
    At each competition, all the teams there have had the same amount of time. Even at the World Festival, all of the teams there had the same amount of time.

    There is a wide variety of how the FLL programs are run in different regions. Here in the East Texas Region, our first competition isn't until Dec. 1. There have been Rookie Workshops of variable quality and value. Some of the Regional Partners have paired new teams with seasoned mentors if requested (ours was a 14 year old Whizz Kid). Currently, schools and FRC teams volunteer to host the tournaments. In a neighboring region, the state organization runs all the tournaments.

    We get a wide range of teams here in East Texas. There are some schools with teams that compete year after year but never do very well because the students only spend 2 years in the school before moving on to the next level school. There have been a few coaches who have fielded very competitive teams, year after year. There have also been coaches who have fielded teams that never do very well. Some of these appear to be more "day care with robots" than STEM programs. There are also a few veteran teams with stable rosters of passionate team members who develop their skills over several years and become highly accomplished.

    While one sees international teams at the World Festival who appear to be adults (guys with full beards), it does not mean that the teams with young team members are automatically at a disadvantage. I have the good fortune to live in Houston where (one of) the World Festival(s) has been held for the last several years and I noticed that many of the teams that are getting the good scores are made up of younger team members, often from the US or Canada where the age cutoff is lower.

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    • #47
      Originally posted by brian@kidbrothers.net View Post

      However, I'd prefer the scores better reflect the team's robot design / programming / strategy skills. Right now, I observed that for many "average" teams (not elite, not completely struggling), the difference between a 30 score and an 80 score is more about their ability to not make mistakes under pressure than it is about their robot skills. By alleviating the time constraint somewhat, it could move the emphasis back toward the robot skills for those teams.
      First, I agree with the others, that the Robotic Design judging session is dedicated for that.
      Second, as I mentioned in the other reply, and what other good coaches (I am trying to become one of them ) kept saying in this forum, a good strategy would tolerate the mistake the kids made under pressure. If the robot has to be aligned manually, starting exactly 2.5 inches from the wall, or pointing perfectly 76 degrees from north (that is pretty much where the space station at, right?), then this is a poorly designed strategy. From this perspective, the score does reflect the team's strategy skills, maybe not that clear between 30-score and 80-score, but definitely between 30-score and >100-score.
      Last edited by OllyLi; 11-21-2018, 12:46 PM.

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      • #48
        Originally posted by OllyLi View Post
        Second, as I mentioned in the other reply, and what other good coaches (I am trying to become one of them ) kept saying in this forum, a good strategy would tolerate the mistake the kids made under pressure. If the robot has to be aligned manually, starting exactly 2.5 inches from the wall, or pointing perfectly 76 degrees from north (that is pretty much where the space station at, right?), then this is a poorly designed strategy. From this perspective, the score does reflect the team's strategy skills, maybe not that clear between 30-score and 80-score, but definitely between 30-score and >100-score.
        Yup, I'm trying to become a good coach as well! ;->

        From observing a number of other "average" teams run matches, I didn't see one particular problem again and again. It was a whole variety of misc. issues. Some kids would put an attachment on wrong. Some kids would leave items in the base in a spot where the robot ran into it. Some kids would misalign the robot. Some kids would break a part of their robot in their haste to put on a new attachment. And 10 other related problems. They had all sorts of different problems.

        But they all shared one thing in common. Every single one of them was made because the kid was so rushed for time that they made a mistake in their haste while under pressure. Hence my 'solution' to extend the time somewhat. It lets them calm down and slow down a tad. Efficient use of their time would still be valuable, but it would shift the emphasis back toward good robot design / strategy and less on avoiding rushed mistakes.

        And I mentioned it way upthread, but I do think it would expand the range of scores quite a bit. Some teams would still score 30, but many more would be able to showcase their robot design / programming skills better and earn scores that reflected that. And some teams would score quite a bit. But I've been pretty clear that this entire idea is meant to improve the experience for "average" teams -- the 99% of all kids involved in FLL that will never dream of making it to the world competition.

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        • #49
          My girls were never rushed but they still made mistakes all the time. Running the robot on a competition table is not at all like running on the table in your meeting room. It is all but inevitable that someone will mix up the mission order or select the wrong program or attachment. It happens all the time. It even happens at the initial launch which is not rushed at all. Last year the team I worked with got zero on their first run because the first mission had the wrong attachment and that discombobulated the operator who hadn't practiced enough. By the end of the day they had the best score. Anxiety may be made worse by the clock ticking down, but I think it is mostly caused by venue and the crowd and the noise and self imposed pressure. Most teams, especially rookie teams, are completely unaware of the time. We hear the ref bellow "One minute remaining", but for most kids it is like a cone of silence has descended over the table.

          If you want to remove the pressure so teams can calmly run their robots you should not have time limits and cheering crowds and the distraction of other teams. That would make it just like running the robot at home. It wouldn't be any fun, but the kids would be calm. The fun part of FLL, and the reason why it is so successful, is because it has that energy along with the pressure and the emotional upheaval. To the observer it may not look like fun when the operator is too afraid to watch the robot, hands covering the face, peeking though narrow slits between fingers, but it is. It is epic. The robot lifting the space travel model so the payload rolls down the ramp is not good TV, but for the kids on the team, for a short period of time, it is the Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl combined.
          Last edited by Dean Hystad; 11-21-2018, 05:18 PM.

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          • #50
            Originally posted by brian@kidbrothers.net View Post

            Yup, I'm trying to become a good coach as well! ;->
            Just wanted to pass along a few things I've learned the last few years. In my district, the teams are an after school program for middle schoolers, but we get mostly 6th graders (because they are not allowed to play sports the first year in middle school) with a few 7th and hardly any 8th. So, not quite as young as yours, but we usually only see kids on the team for 1 or 2 seasons and none have programming experience (very few have Lego experience). My tips are:

            1. Let them do single missions, but focus on reliability. Every meeting, you should say that they need to combine missions, but when they inevitably do a single mission, don't worry about it. It's their robot design and you can totally make it to state with single mission launches. We usually end up with 5 or 6 launches and maybe 1 or 2 of those will do two missions at once. The rest are all single, and I'm okay with that.

            2. Focus on reducing time in base by:

            2a) Helping them figure out how to align the robot (either locations on the mat, a jig, etc.). This year my kids made an "L" on the back of the robot and align it with the L in Lego or League on the mat. Last year they had a jig.

            2b) Helping them figure out a master menu program (https://www.startingpoints.com/maste...ot/programming). You will likely need to teach them some EV3Lessons.com stuff for them to get it, but its totally worth it.

            2c) Helping them figure out how to get attachments on/off quickly and/or reusing attachments for multiple missions. That last can generate a lot of creativity. Last year I saw a youtube video of the coolest little robot who got almost half the missions with just two permanent attachments! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-g...UHer8WSUL2RPef. We tend to use a dog gear design, but there are ton of different ways to approach this issue.


            3. Run the board! How early you start this will depend on how often you meet, but you want to run the board, timed, with their class mates or parents watching. That's what helps with the "pressure". Maybe video for "extra" pressure. And remember that you will perform like you practice. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. So get them pumped up (team cheer, chant, etc.) to get the adrenaline flowing and then time them on the board.

            4. Have a scrimmage if you can. We don't have formal scrimmages, but we know the teams in the area and usually invite them for a Saturday scrimmage a couple weeks before the tournament. Its a good time for them to practice in front of new people, feel additional pressure, and they can get brownie points for coopertition! They have a "match", then 30 minutes to fiddle, then another "match", etc.



            Last edited by amy.eddy; 11-26-2018, 11:04 AM.

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            • #51
              I've picked up a couple points from this thread. The first is pretty obvious - the combination of the young age limit and early tournaments in Michigan is very suboptimal. It sounds from the OP's account like the great FLL experience many of us have had is much harder to achieve in Michigan.

              The second point is that shared experience is a very valuable resource in FLL. This too is obvious, but this thread has made me think more about how experience is shared in FLL. The OP related how the low age limit in Michigan also reduces the experience level of coaches because they tend to cycle through the program more quickly. The result is that one valuable source of shared experience, the coach, is being constrained.

              As a contrast, I'm a third-year coach with the geographical good fortune to coach in a league of seven local FLL teams with a strong support structure. In this environment experience is shared at multiple levels: experienced teams share their experiences with younger teams, experienced coaches mentor newer coaches, some teams have a wide age range where experience is passed along within the team, and there is institutional experience reflected in how the league holds events throughout the season to help teams prepare for competition. In this environment, new teams not only get up to speed quickly, but by doing so they can even reach the point of having something to share with more experienced teams during the season.

              Being able to accrue experience is not just beneficial for performance (and it certainly is!), it is also a valuable ingredient in making FLL a really rich experience for kids. It is like grease for the Core Values - it makes everything slide along more smoothly.

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              • #52
                Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                2c) Helping them figure out how to get attachments on/off quickly and/or reusing attachments for multiple missions. That last can generate a lot of creativity. Last year I saw a youtube video of the coolest little robot who got almost half the missions with just two permanent attachments! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-g...UHer8WSUL2RPef. We tend to use a dog gear design, but there are ton of different ways to approach this issue.
                Thanks for the link, that is quite a tidy and elegant robot design and strategy.

                FIRST LEGO League Mentor and Referee/Head Referee since 2011.

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                • #53
                  Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post
                  Last year I saw a youtube video of the coolest little robot who got almost half the missions with just two permanent attachments! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-g...UHer8WSUL2RPef.
                  Really just one attachment. The 4th motor was only used to water the flower. That robot could have done the slingshot and delivered water and rain and repair a pipeline given more time. One attachment to do every mission. I tell teams all attachments are a stick or a box. This one is a boxy stick. Or is it a sticky box? Very flexible and efficient. I would give this team a near perfect robot design eval.

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                  • #54
                    Brian,

                    Hey, I'm in Michigan, what area are you in? Maybe we could do a team meetup at some point if that would be useful.

                    Specifically with regards to the kids having not enough time - we try to treat the time limit as a focusing/narrowing/improvement point. If the attachment doesn't attach in seconds, then we suggest that they need to rework it. We do a lot of "real world" timing to make the point clear.

                    Also at the start of the year, we have them contemplate designs that work well for this sort of thing in general. (What types of attachments can be made quickly and securely?) That sort of thing.

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                    • #55
                      Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                      1. Let them do single missions, but focus on reliability. Every meeting, you should say that they need to combine missions, but when they inevitably do a single mission, don't worry about it. It's their robot design and you can totally make it to state with single mission launches. We usually end up with 5 or 6 launches and maybe 1 or 2 of those will do two missions at once. The rest are all single, and I'm okay with that.
                      Thanks for the awesome tips!! Yes, this is exactly where we are. At the qualifying tournament last month, we ran 7 missions with 5 launches from base. 3 of those (solar panel, space travel, tube) are directly out and back with no turns, so even if we combined them, we'd probably only save a few seconds.


                      Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                      2a) Helping them figure out how to align the robot (either locations on the mat, a jig, etc.). This year my kids made an "L" on the back of the robot and align it with the L in Lego or League on the mat. Last year they had a jig.
                      Oh absolutely. We would lose half our points if we didn't have the jig in place.

                      Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                      2b) Helping them figure out a master menu program (https://www.startingpoints.com/maste...ot/programming). You will likely need to teach them some EV3Lessons.com stuff for them to get it, but its totally worth it.
                      I've considered this one, but currently don't see how it would save us any time. The kids intentionally name all the programs "01 space travel", "02 tube", "03 extraction", etc. etc. so that they show up on the brick in order. Then they have them all preloaded into the "recent run" menu option, meaning running the next program is simply 'down button', 'middle button'. Programming them into one long program so that the next mission ran when a brick button is pushed would only eliminate a single button push, wouldn't it? Half a second maybe?

                      Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                      2c) Helping them figure out how to get attachments on/off quickly and/or reusing attachments for multiple missions. That last can generate a lot of creativity. Last year I saw a youtube video of the coolest little robot who got almost half the missions with just two permanent attachments! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-g...UHer8WSUL2RPef. We tend to use a dog gear design, but there are ton of different ways to approach this issue.
                      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. We work closely with another team, and the difference between the two teams was night and day -- we were running 7 missions on one attachment and adding additional items with axles that were instant on/off. They were running 6 missions with 4 different attachment changes, including taking one attachment off, then putting it back on later in the match. A few days after the qualifying tournament, we finished our 7 missions with 30 seconds to go. They were getting 4 or 5 missions done when time ran out. A full minute of the 2.5 minutes was being spent in base (where, of course, they're receiving 0 points). Fortunately, they fixed the problem of numerous attachment changes and they're quickly catching up to our team!


                      Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                      3. Run the board! How early you start this will depend on how often you meet, but you want to run the board, timed, with their class mates or parents watching. That's what helps with the "pressure". Maybe video for "extra" pressure. And remember that you will perform like you practice. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. So get them pumped up (team cheer, chant, etc.) to get the adrenaline flowing and then time them on the board.
                      Absolutely yes. This was our biggest issue at the qualifying tournament. The other coach I work with had the kids practice their project presentation at least 20 times. And it showed. We won the presentation aware out of 48 teams at the tourney. The kids didn't practice 2.5 minute matches anywhere near 20 times. But they will before our state tournament next week! :>

                      Again, thanks for the awesome suggestions!!

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                      • #56
                        Originally posted by amy.eddy View Post

                        2c) Helping them figure out how to get attachments on/off quickly and/or reusing attachments for multiple missions. That last can generate a lot of creativity. Last year I saw a youtube video of the coolest little robot who got almost half the missions with just two permanent attachments! [URL="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-gcdAMazE&list=PLGIqdI3Z4AnAswU11NDUHer8WSUL2RPef"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA-g...UHer8WSUL2RPef[/URL
                        Oh, and this video is really, really fantastic. These kids did a great job on maximizing the performance from a relatively simple robot.

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                        • #57
                          Originally posted by jlrwi View Post
                          I've picked up a couple points from this thread. The first is pretty obvious - the combination of the young age limit and early tournaments in Michigan is very suboptimal. It sounds from the OP's account like the great FLL experience many of us have had is much harder to achieve in Michigan.

                          The second point is that shared experience is a very valuable resource in FLL.
                          100% yes to everything you wrote. :>

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                          • #58
                            Originally posted by altCognito View Post
                            Brian,

                            Hey, I'm in Michigan, what area are you in? Maybe we could do a team meetup at some point if that would be useful.

                            Specifically with regards to the kids having not enough time - we try to treat the time limit as a focusing/narrowing/improvement point. If the attachment doesn't attach in seconds, then we suggest that they need to rework it. We do a lot of "real world" timing to make the point clear.

                            Also at the start of the year, we have them contemplate designs that work well for this sort of thing in general. (What types of attachments can be made quickly and securely?) That sort of thing.
                            We're in West Bloomfield. And yes, the easy on/off attachment concept is huge. For just one example, the team I mentioned above was super-committed to keeping the touch sensor for the food production mission. And I can understand their desire, since it was having a 100% success rate, so they didn't want to risk those guaranteed points. The problem was that they didn't have any other missions that used the touch sensor, so they were actually taking off their 'normal' attachment they use for the other missions, putting on a different attachment with the touch sensor for food production & observatory, then taking the touch sensor attachment off, and putting the normal attachment back on. It was taking forever. I challenged them to come up with a solution that would keep the touch sensor but wouldn't require two attachment changes. Several kids starting trying different things, and one student came up with a fantastic solution where she attached the touch sensor to the side of the existing attachment, but doesn't interfere with the other missions. Ta da! She **easily** gave their team 20 seconds.



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                            • #59
                              Ah, we're in Novi, so just around the corner. I'll try and drop a line when I get things going.

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