I had a blast at the Houston Regional Championship for the FLL Hydrodynamics season.
Where are all the monster trucks? You won't find any here. This is where we separate the truly efficient machines from the toys. Don't let the little girls in pink capes distract you, they are the engineers of the future. See how they roll:
0:06 Start of 1st Robot Run (Filter r3)
0:11 Filter Mission scores with Jada's Claw (M05 - 30 pts)
0:18 Start of 2nd Robot Run (Pump r8)
0:22 Flow attempted with Ava's Lever Turner but does not score (M02)
0:30 Pump Addition scores (M03 - 20 pts)
0:39 Rain Cloud engaged using Laura's Rainmaker and drops rain to score (M04 - 20 pts)
0:57 Start of 3rd Robot Run (HWRPMFU r22)
1:05 Fountain Mission scores (M07 - 20 pts)
1:13 Water Treatment (Toilet) Mission attempted but does not score (M06)
1:25 Faucet Mission scores using Riya's Butt Lever (M18 - 25 pts)
1:33 Broken Pipe retrieved (M01 - 20 pts)
1:49 Start of 4th Robot Run (FlowerFire r15)
1:56 Tripod Placed using Laura's Tripod Holder, but does not score because all 3 feet are not touching the mat. (M09)
2:16 Big Water dropped into Flower Pot
2:18 Big Water engaged into Flower Pot (M13 - 30 pts)
2:24 Crowd starts cheering for the Fire Truck
2:32 Robot gets into place and starts pushing the Fire Truck (M15)
2:36 Ending buzzard sounds
2:39 Fire Truck puts out Fire (no points scored since this is after the buzzard)
2:49 Woman rants about how hard and rare the Fire Truck mission is! (Well the flower mission is pretty rare as well)
The Brainiac Maniacs attempted 11 missions within 4 robot runs. 7 missions scored, and 4 did not. But that was enough to get them 165 points out of a possible 255 which landed them in 8th place on the robot score which is the top 14%. The Champion's award only requires the top 40%, so they were among the 23 teams eligible to receive the award. And they did. This girl scout team of 9 rookie and 1 veteran member will be advancing to to the World Championship in Houston. Go Texans! (and girl power!)
If you can't get enough of them, check them out on YouTube doing a parody to Elton John's "I'm still standing".
here is a subcategory in Robot Design under Mechanical Design called Mechanical Efficiency. This is usually interpreted to mean efficient use of parts. It seems pretty innocuous and self evident on the rubric, but few teams realize how this criteria plays out in the judging room. If they did there wouldn't be so many monster robots being promoted on YouTube. There is nothing wrong with having a big robot. There is nothing wrong with having a small robot. Efficient is "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense". The adjudication of efficiency is based on how much MORE were you able to accomplish by adding more complexity to your design. A big robot that achieves a LOT more than a little robot can do quite well, but this is a gamble. The reason that this is a risk is because you are taking the risk that another smaller robot would not be able to do just as much as your robot did. So how does this play out on in deliberation? All attributes of your mechanical design are debated until we can compare side-by-side the benefits of each robot design and describe the outcomes produced by each. As long as a big robot is out-performing a little robot, there is no detailed calculation of efficiency, there isn't time for that. But with all things being equal as far as a robot being mechanically designed for reduced program complexity, consistency of execution, number of missions, number of missions per run, reuse of attachments and difficulty of missions chosen, if two teams are comparable across all of these aspects of mechanical design, the smaller robot wins, hands down! (Literally, because deliberation ends). No complex math required.
But let's not stop there. This is quite a profound statement it's worth repeating. Efficient is "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense". I didn't realize how profound until I spent the last few weeks with my son debating the virtues of core values. As recently as a month ago I was joking with some judges that my 12-year-old son refuses to be on the same team as his 9-year-old brother. I just assumed that Inclusion was a core value battle that I couldn't win. When we attended the Houston Regional Championship, I asked him to videotape the awards ceremony so that I could participate in the high-five line. Afterwards he had a deep desire to win. We have been participating for 3 years now without his team qualifying, so I was puzzled about the change. It turns out that looking through the lens and watching 30 teams jump up for joy with utter elation for an hour was VERY moving to him. He wanted to experience that joy. A few days later, the first sign of change came when he agreed to accept his brother on his team. I was quite proud of this breakthrough and I thought I could check that off my list, but we mustn't forget about Integration as well. A week later my son called me over and started writing on our whiteboard. He really wanted to make sure he understood core values, so he told me he understood why inclusion would be good for his team, but why would he ever need that outside of FLL? This question surprise me since 1) it meant he really wanted to embrace core values, his hand and voice shook a little because he was frustrated he hadn't already mastered this value and 2) I didn't have a quick response that I thought would be convincing. We continued this discussion for a few days where I grasped for answers such as "You don't always get to pick your team, so you should practice making due with what you have". Though I believed this to be a good answer, I was somehow not quite satisfied (this answer encouraged pity which is not what under-valued kids seek). I discovered I have known the answer all along.
Even when you can choose your team, you should STILL practice inclusion. The reason this is the rarest core value in practice is because kids want to win. The reason my son didn't understand why it could possibly be important was he is continuously surrounded by exclusive organization being a sign of success. I was the perpetrator of this problem when I thought I could solve all my team problems by being more selective in my recruiting phase. There is an unspoken negative connotation with both the words inclusion and diversity. Some may perceive that you are weakening the team when you have to take pity on someone that you add to the team for the sake of inclusion. Inclusion is NOT about pity, and the recent discussions about *efficient use of parts* juxtaposed in my conscience with my search for a good answer to my son's questions revealed to me the true answer that I now realize I must share with whoever will listen.
I have judged across all 3 categories of FLL judging and at local, regional and world competitions. It is rare to see teams that embrace inclusion. It's not rare to hear a team in Core Values judging state: "We learned about inclusion". What is rare is teams that will give their weakest members equal time during a presentation, and quietly listen and respect the answer they have to contribute. It's not so rare that I might not sometimes see it more than once, such as at the Houston Regional Championship where I saw it twice, but it's rare enough that I don't always see it at every event I judge. Having witnessed it you might think that I can confirm that teams that practice inclusion sacrifice performance when they practice inclusion. They do not. Most of the teams embracing inclusion do considerable better on average than other teams. How can this be?
Efficient use of parts. A team that embraces inclusion, not out of pity, but out of truly valuing all their team mates, will be some of the most powerful teams because they leave no part or person underutilized.
Back to my son's question: Why should I practice inclusion outside of FLL? Because when we underutilize any member of our community, we are not efficiently using all of our parts. When I say that everyone has value, I am not encouraging us to give everyone an award for a job well done when it was not. What I am advocating is that we actual value every person that comes to us wanting to be a contributor. We should take the time to find that person's talent and give them the opportunity to provide that value to the team and community. Just like the robot game where it is SO easy to be wooed by big robots that we forget that we want efficient use of parts; it is equally tempting to want only the most valuable team members that we don't see the value in all potential team members we already have all around us.
I am not saying this is easy. This is hard. But just like the little girl on Brainiac Maniacs whose eyes lit up when she told me that when she heard the flower and fire missions were the hardest missions, she insisted that she needed to complete them (AND she did); I will honor her sentiment and accept the challenge to take on the hardest FLL core value: Inclusion.
I met Coach Brian 2 years ago at an Animal Allies scrimmage when I noticed that he was giving one of my team members advice on their gyro placement. I found this behavior odd and when I introduced myself, he told me that my kids could go to ev3lessons.com for more details on using the gyro. I was so inspired by this encounter that I volunteered at all of the remaining events that year. He is a 4 year coach that coaches 3 teams at his school. When someone asked him on Saturday which team he coached, I had to add that it's hard to tell because he just walks around helping all the teams. You can find out more about them at robosaders.com.
Now to the team. This is my son Canh, interviewing the BioBots in the pits:
Don't underestimate this team. One of the hardest things to teach is core values, and they are one of the more impressive teams. When Brian mentions that some of his teams just get it, this is one of them. We held two Coopertition events to rebuild 13 competition tables for the league. The 1st one was huge and 80+ kids and parents came out and pitched in. The 2nd did not have as great of a turn out, but that didn't stop the kids on this team from building almost all of the 5 tables we built that day. Though I was surprised that they didn't get the core values award. I am delighted that this is now becoming a tough category to compete in. It means that we are doing the right thing as a community and I was actually elated for Coach Veronica that her team, the Friendly LEGO LifeSavers received that honor on Saturday.
I met Coach Jenny 3 years ago when I coached my first team at Oak Hill Elementary. I like to tell people that she has an enormous amount of patience. She is known in our community not only for her 8+ year involvement with FLL, but she also makes Math Decathalon and Science Fair possible in our school. She coached in years when she didn't have a kid on the team because she wanted the program to be continuous. That is true dedication. When I decided to take my team private my second year, she advised me on the pros and cons of both. For her, the choice was clear because she wanted all kids to have access to the program who might be overlooked for a private team. That was a sacrifice I couldn't make at the time, but she did it year after year. Here is her lovely team being interviewed by my 9-year-old, Canh.
When I ran into her in the stands, she was telling me about her impending retirement from FLL, though she might be able to help occasional and might try to find a new home for her orphanned robots. Well, since her team has qualified to go to the Regional Championship, she will have to delay her plans at least one more month.
I met Coach Natraj at the Martin Qualifier when he was standing in the sidelines with his team, Python Slayers. He had a very solemn but proud look on his face. His team was not doing so well on the playing field, but he wanted them to keep up their spirits, they still had a couple more rounds to go. His team was mostly rookies with a few members who had been coached by Coach Christina Morales whom I just met last month and noticed she shared a similar dedication to the league as myself. Natraj at least felt solace that his team did really well on their Project presentation because he understood it wasn't about winning. I am always looking for a good story to promote the mission of FIRST, so I suggested that my son Binh go and do a Pit Interview with them for us to share. Here is that interview:
It's great to see a talkative group of kids that can still show respect for each other as they promote each other as well as their team. I love the spontaneous kid who started humming the Jeopardy theme song when Binh had a problem coming up with another question.
I was amazed at the questions that Binh, my 12-year-old son, choose to ask this team. These are the same questions that rookie coaches ask that go unanswered. Perhaps he has a future career in journalism (though he should possibly leave the videography to someone else). Make sure you watch the video to hear some great answers to the following questions: (or should I say great questions to the following answers?)
I was delighted to hear at the award ceremony that the Python Slayers took home the 1st place Champions Award. And I was able to capture this treasured moment of them to take home with me so that I could share with you.
FLL Coach since 2015