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 yesasia.com

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: http://www.usfirst.org/community/fll/content.aspx?id=788

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: http://www.techbrick.com/

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!