Wednesday, October 8, 2008

FLL Practice - Week Three

We only had one team practice this week (the advanced team) due to the Yom Kippur holiday.

We began with the team sitting around the practice mat and with the strategy group sharing their ideas of the mission order and for attachments. I assigned a student to scribe their ideas on a chart, and we also used this share time to reinforce group rules like attentive listening, turn taking, and respectful disagreements.

The strategy discussion got the team charged up for building! We split the team into 4 groups to build the robot base we discussed last week. Unfortunately the robot design the team decided on requires a flat base - so that means AA batteries and not the rechargeable ones - my budget just went up!

I grabbed the students who were interested in leading the research project to review the powerpoint that Mark Sharfshteyn shared at the Brooklyn FLL Kickoff You can find it here:

After getting the overview we looked into a website that maps out the effects of Climate Change in New York City (we googled "climate change NYC"). We learned some shocking effects of climate change in our area and decided we were most interested in researching the effect of flooding on our transit system. I think for next week we'll look into contacting someone from the MTA to come in and talk to us - or making a field trip to go see them. The students also brainstormed making a video because they felt they did not have enough physical space last year in the judging booth to make a great play. They also agreed that a video would be better for school assemblies and can be shared on You Tube.

I wonder if the beginner team will also want to look into the effects of flooding on our transit system? It would be great to have them all contribute to each other... but they also need to be in charge.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

FLL Practice - Week Two

Week two we made a lot of progress.

We began with an alliteration name game to remind us of all our names, then broke off into four groups:

Group 1 - Finished building the models for the robot game
Group 2 - Began Robot Research - finding a good base and attachments for the robot (on and
Group 3 - Learned how to program the light sensor and tested a starter robot to see if we could get it to follow the rainbow
Group 4 - Began strategizing the order of the missions

I floated between the building, robot research, and strategy teams, while our two high school mentors taught the programming group about the light sensor.

We ended the practice with a team meeting where everyone shared their findings. The only group that did not have time to share was the strategy team - but we will share their findings first thing next practice.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

FIRST FLL Practice

I had my first team practice this week for all the students in our FLL program. We have 30 students participating this year over 2 days (15 students a day). Our students range in age from grade 3 to grade 7 with two High School mentors/assistant coaches. We purchased two field set up kits so we could display one as a real life model and the kids could build the second one.

We are having the advanced team (those with prior FLL team experience) meet on Wednesdays and the rookies meet on Thursdays. We had the same lesson plan for both groups this first session.

Here's how Session 1 went (duration 1 1/2 hours):

Arrival/Warm-up Activity
Build your name out of LEGO & share your name, what grade your in, and experience with LEGO, Robotics, and FLL.

This group is already showing teamwork
by building their names as a crossword puzzle

Showed FLL video (to rookie team)

Shared & Discussed FLL Values

Climate Connections Theme Overview
Reviewed our 3 challenges as a team - what we have to accomplish this season:
1 - Robot Game
2 - Research Project (just stated what it is - we did not get into details - we will leave that for a later practice)
3 - Technical Presentation

Reviewed Missions on Field Set up Table
Our High School mentors took turns explaining each mission and took questions.

Both groups (rookie and advanced had lots of questions and ideas for strategies).

We used the scoring worksheet from as a guide.

Sorting LEGO Bricks
We split the students up into 4 groups to sort the mission model LEGO bricks

Building Mission Models
We divided the students into pairs or triads to build the mission models, giving the advanced builders the more advanced projects. The advanced team completed about 3/4 of the mission models (minus 5 models - the interactive model, the ice core, the elevation house, the core drilling model, and the storm). Those groups that didn't finish left a post-it on the step they last completed as a marker for the next team to start from.

Clean up
This year with a motivated team clean up is a breeze. In years past I used to give prizes (like a pencil or some SMARTIES) for the best cleaners (everyone gets something).

Homework/Notes Home
I assigned everyone homework to come up with an idea for a team name (we create one each year to match the theme) and to visit the FLL website to learn more about the missions and research project). I also sent a note home with our practice schedule for the season, a parent contact from, and a call for parent volunteers.

Next week (Week 2)...
We will work on completing the mission models, then will split up the students into paired teams to watch and re-teach the mission videos, and begin research on robot design. We will use NXTLOG,, and Domabotics as resources to help us.

Week 3 ideas...
I just re-watched An Inconvenient Truth and will show chapters of it to introduce the research project.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Presentation from FLL Kickoff

It was a great morning at the FLL Kickoff at Polytechnic U in Brooklyn. It was wonderful to see so many coaches and teams come out early on a Saturday.

Here is a link to the handout I gave out:
Now that I have the team, What do I do?

Here's the Power Point Presentation:

Or view the Power Point Presentation on Google Docs:
LEGO Presentation

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and good luck to all of you this season.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FLL Conference Call about Robot Game Tomorrow (9/18)

I have Parent Night tomorrow so I'll just have to hear the MP3 re-broadcast, but this is a conference call worth dialing in to.

Tomorrow, Thursday, September 18, at 7 pm EST. The FIRST Senior Mentors will be hosting the fourth in a series of important Teleconference calls for FLL Team Coaches on understanding The ROBOT Game. How does the table work? What's a "Homebase?" About Robots, and Rules on Robots, apparatuses, and configurations, the missions & how scoring works.

This call will be hosted by Senior Mentor Steve Cremer and features Mr. Scott Evans, the inventor of the robot game each year. This is a must listen!

All team coaches, especially rookie coaches, are welcome. The call in number is 1-800-503-2899. The 7-digit access code is: "6663906". They will have 150 lines available, so lines are on a first come, first served basis. The call will be recorded and available for replay at:

When you have accessed the conference call line, please put your phone on "mute". Press " *6 " to mute your line so that your background noise will not be heard on the call. When you wish to speak, press " *7 " to un-mute your line.

If your phone has a separate "mute" key, please press that key to mute your microphone at all times except when you wish to speak.

They highly recommend for this call that you set up your PC to view the GAME MISSIONS page while on the call. The link is:

Previous Senior Mentor Teleconferences
Please check and download any previous FLL Coaches phone conferences that you may have missed here:

Me and Scott Evans at the FLL World Festival in Atlanta, GA. April, 2007

FLL Kickoff this Saturday (9/20) at Polytechnic U in Brooklyn

This is a great event to attend especially if you are a new coach. I go every year with my co-coahes to see the Robot Game overview and brainstorm strategies and to brainstorm with coaches about the research project. You can bring your teams!

NYC FIRST Lego League Kickoff

Saturday September 20, 2008
9:00 AM-1:15 PM

Polytechnic University
6 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Open to all. Kids/teams welcome! Bring a camera or video!


9:00-9:30 AM: Welcome and Introductions
(Pfizer Auditorium)

9:30-10:00 AM: Research Assignment Presentation
(Pfizer Auditorium)
Mark Scharfeshteyn does his usual magic.

10:00-10:45 AM: JFLL Overview - Keith Wynne, Coach PS 58
NYC FLL structure for '08 season
(Pfizer Auditorium)

11:00-12:00 PM: Tips and tricks from veteran coaches for new coaches
(vets invited too)
(Jacobs Academic Building [JAB] - Room 475)

Eric Greene, Coach IS 192Q
Organizing a team

Maureen Reilly, coach at Packer Collegiate Institute
Will talk about resources online for building ideas for the kids and organizing lessons - the flow of the season, "Now that I have the team what do I do?"

Veryl Greene, retired middle school coach, currently robotics Specialist Manhattan OIT
Will give an overview of the kit & the NXT software

Suman Sabastin, Girl Scouts robotics advisor
Team management and scheduling

11:00-12:00 PM: Game Overview (Veteran Teams)
(Rogers Hall [RH] - Room 116)
Led by Richard Wong

12:15-1:15 PM: Game Overview (Rookie Teams)
(Rogers Hall [RH] - Room 116)
Led by Richard Wong

Parking: You can find a spot in the street if you get there early and are willing to walk a bit. South of Atlantic Ave is easier. There is a garage at the Marriott across the street.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Are you pondering the pros and cons of using the RCX or NXT MINDSTORMS platform for your FLL team? Well some funny folks at ISEK (Iowa State Engineering Kids) made a group of videos that weigh both platforms using the Mac vs PS TV ads as their muse.

Watch and decide which platform you will use...
RCX vs. NXT videos

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I (heart) Yoshihito Isogawa

For those of you not familiar with his work, Yoshihito Isogawa is a LEGO genius. He's a Japanese LEGO enthusiast who shares his creations on his LEGO Studio website (translated into English by Alta Vista). The model galleries on his website are full of MINDSTORMS NXT and RCX creations that can serve as inspirational models in any robotics classroom. I am especially awed by his biped, the NXT Walker, where he provides not only beautiful photographs of the model, but video and building instructions as well.

Yoshihito recently published a set of three new LEGO books that I will be using in my classroom this year. They are the Red Book, the Blue Book , and the Green Book that show how to build machines with LEGO bricks.

The books show this with all LEGO parts (system and TECHNIC), and with all types of LEGO motors (RCX, NXT, power function motors). The books are full of detailed photographs of gear trains, mini cars, walkers, and motorized contraptions. I already have a few pages flagged to show to my team for ideas for grabber arms, lifters, and pushing mechanisms for their FLL robot.

The Red Book's focus is on geared mechanisms (without motors)
The Blue Book's focus in on motorized mechanisms
The Green Book's focus is on walking mechanisms

You can purchase these books at

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting Organized for the FLL Season

I have found nothing more effective in teaching than the power of modeling. "Teach, model, and practice" is the core of my pedagogy. This motto goes for my FLL coaching as well. I am starting my modeling early this season with something simple, organizing our mission model LEGO bricks.

Each FLL season we kick off our first practice with opening up the field set up kit and having a massive LEGO sort. This enables the team members to get familiar with the mission models and the LEGO parts that make them up. It's also a great team building exercise that is fun and authentic. However, during the sort activity we always run into questions like, "Where should this go?" and we often answer with, "Where do you think it makes sense for this to go?" After the parts are sorted we hear, "I can't find this part!" and, "Where can I find...?" and we often answer with, "Where do you think it makes sense to find this part?" This year I wanted to better re-direct these inquiries and model how to find materials in a concrete way.

We will be having two FLL teams (maybe three) at my school this season. I ordered two field set up kits for the first time to help simulate the actual competition set up in my classroom. Having two kits will enable me to use one as a model and the second for the team. I will model how to sort the elements (in a very cool Real Organized™ 39 Drawer Storage Cabinet I found at Lowes - yes there is one in New York City) and keep an inventory on a print out of the parts list to show what parts go in each drawer. This will make both the sorting and finding of LEGO parts concrete. Now I can answer, "Where can I find...?" with "Let's look at the parts list to see."

After our first session of organizing the LEGO parts, my co-coaches and I will build one set of the mission models as a "model" for the team. I also often hear, "How is this supposed to look again?" Now I can answer with a concrete "model."

Sorted LEGO elements in drawer#1 and parts list showing where to find them

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

FLL Conference Call to Help New Coaches Tomorrow (8/20/08)

This was sent in an FLL e-mail blast yesterday...

"The FIRST Senior Mentors are pleased to announce they will be hosting the first in a series of important Teleconference calls for all FLL Team Coaches beginning this Wednesday, August 20, at 7 pm EST."

They say the call will focus on "FLL Coaching basics," including an overview of the FLL program, tips on shaping a team toward successfully meeting program goals and objectives, and toward finding resources that can make the coaching job easy, productive, and fun.

The call will be led by Sally Sylvester, an FLL veteran coach from Virginia. Also online will be Steve Cremer from Boston, an FLL & FTC Team coach, and FLL Partner Services Manager Karen Burnett-Kurie.

All team coaches are welcome. The call in number is 1-800-503-2899 and the 7-digit access code is 6663906. They will have 100 lines available, so lines are on a first come, first served basis. The call will also be recorded and available for replay at the link:

I have never attended these conference calls in my 3 years (going to my 4th) with FLL. But it seems they would be helpful for a first year coach and team.

Monday, August 18, 2008

FLL Climate Connection Resources

Marco Ciavolino, an FLL coach from Forest Hill, Maryland has been busy putting together teaching resources for the FLL Climate Connections season.

He has provided downloads of building instructions for the mission models, worksheets for helping students organize their mission strategies, as well as high res files of the field mat and challenge models. Also included is a vocabulary list of weather items to assist with the research project. Marco is selling a booklet of the building instructions if you want to save on printing them yourself (FLL sends them as PDF files).

You can visit his website here:

I downloaded all the files myself and am happy that Marco not only shared his resources but also saved me (and many others) a lot of planning time this season.

There are also tips on the site for rookie coaches.

Good Luck Marco and team Tech Brick!