FLL – The Project

I want to start out by saying the project portion of FLL is my weakness, I haven’t worked on projects like this since my kids were in middle school, 8 years ago.

Any responses/ideas/thoughts that could help others with the project would be appreciated. Since I am a beginner at this and I’m trying to help everyone, I appreciate others help and others ideas.

Everyone needs to remember that the project is 25% of your overall score. So I want to learn, even though the coaches are dealing with the project portion. I started by reading the Rubrics and the Project FAQs. Then I went to a local FLL workshop put on by a Longtime North Texas FLL Coach, Sherry Oliver at TCU. It was really great and I learn a lot.

The project presentation takes place in front of judges. The kids have 5 minutes to present from the time they enter the door. The judges then have 5 minutes to question the team. For the team, that’s it. The judges will continue to deliberate for 5 minutes before the next team.

One suggestion that came up was a Project notebook, as well as a Robot Build note book, and a Team Notebook (for core values and team work issues).

So what should go in the Project note book.The simple answer is all information that was found while researching the project.

  • Keep the brain storming ideas for the project.
  • Information on the problem.
  • Any information found while researching the project
  • Information on the solution
  • Information on
  • Pictures of the kids meeting with experts
  • Pictures of any field trips
  • Picture of your senior partner
  • Current Technologies that could could be used, made smaller/better/faster to  solve the problem

The project notebook would be given to the project judges to review. But make sure you get it back at the end of the day.

The project needs to be a problem that could possibly lead to a solution. Basically, you need to follow the process of:

  • Find a problem
  • Come up with technologies that could solve the problem
  • Think about technologies that would can be made smaller, better, or faster to solve the problem
  • Think of things that can be done possibly in the next 5 to 50 years.

If the problem has a solution that can be done today, then have plans that could lead to the solution should be presented. Letters to people/groups/businesses asking for change. Plans for items to be created to solve the problem or plans to work with an expert to solve the problem.

Thanks to Sherry Oliver and everyone else who is and will be helping me on my quest for learning about the FLL project.



FLL Stratagy

There are many levels of strategy for doing the various FLL missions. I’m only going to talk about some of the basic strategy to start the kids thinking about how to do the missions.

The best strategy is to read the game manual. Read it closely, brainstorm with others, and think about what the description says with not preconceived ideas. For example, the Transitions mission says “Robot gets onto the center platform…”, it doesn’t say how to get on, you can get on from either end…or possibly from the side by tilting the center platform to the side and moving onto the platform.

Take a look at the game mat. In general, look at the missions to see how “easy” they are. Typically, a mission is considered easy if they are close to base or the missions with larger target to hit.

Missions such as the video call near the base, the wood working (retrieving the broken chair), retrieving the service dog, and possibly the blue quilts are fairly easy.

Missions such as the cardiovascular exercise, similarity recognition and cooperation, ball game, the lower hoop on flexibility, the orange quilt, the gardening, the strength exercise, and transitions are medium hard.They are a bit further to get to or have a small target to hit. When something is further the robot accuracy isn’t as good. Same with small targets. The transitions has obstacles to complete the mission which makes it medium hard.

The rest of the missions…the medicine, bowling, strength exercise, stove, the far video call, and the upper flexibility hoop are all hard, they are far and small to activate.

The Cardiovascular Exercise is the “impossible” mission. This is simply because there’s not really enough time to get it done along with all the other missions. It has to be visited multiple times (6 times with no touch penalties) while having to do all the other missions.

Also, there are lines on the game mat. This lines can help with movement, they can be followed to get to a destination, used to straighten the robot, or tell where you are by moving until you hit a line . Line following or robot movement until you hit a line is a strategy. The lines are a bit different this year. There are green lines, dashed lines, lines going from light to dark. We’ll have to get into the missions to tell how this will affect the game.

We’ll talk specific mission strategy next time.

Again, if you have any question, e-mail me at frc704mentor@qweztech.com.

FLL portable walls

Note: August 28 is Robot Game release…WooHoo!!

Last year I worked with a team at a school with almost no storage space near the robot room. There was little enough room for the boxes of Robot Lego’s, much less a practice table, even a portable one. We practiced on the floor on missions that were in the center of the mat with no need for walls.

This year, I don’t want any teams to fall into the same predicament. I had heard rumors of how to build portable walls but hadn’t found the plans. So I came up with the follow plans for portable walls that fit in a small storage area and are cheap to build.

It can be used for practice on the floor, or they can be taken to qualifiers and used for your own practice area.

Here’s the link – http://www.qweztech.com/OtherRobotics/FLL Floor Practice Table.pdf

It’s at my FIRST mentoring website – http://www.qweztech.com

It costs less than $25, stores in an area about 48″ X 4″ X 12″, and weighs less than 25 lbs.

I hope this can help some people. Good Luck

FLL Organizing a team

There are many different ideas about how coaches should organize an FLL team. Some of the organizational methods are good, some not as good. The key thing is to come up with a way that fits you’re (or the coaches) organizational style…unless that style is chaotic, I haven’t seen that style work yet.

These are my thoughts based on watching teams from either a mentor’s perspective or as someone who was brought in to teach/trouble shoot/guide for a short time, which seems to be something I do a lot of. I’ve also read others FLL’ers thoughts on team organization. Here are some of my thoughts.

  • The coach doesn’t need to be technical – just good with kids and organized. Understanding NXT-G programming and building helps. The FIRST organization has some good information on coaching on their international FLL site.
  • Recruit parents/mentor’s – The coach can’t do it all, you need help. They can help keep the kids on task with the project and robot missions moving. Mentors can really help with the programming and building ideas.
  • Manage and Administer the team – keep the team organized and moving toward the FLL competitions. Set practice schedule, meet deadlines from FIRST (i.e. registration, event sign up, etc.), and getting things done on time. A bigger task is sometimes managing the parents (probably the hardest part). Don’t let the parents use the FLL meetings as “babysitting”. If kids don’t want to be there, then they don’t need to be there.
  • Kid interaction – Depending on the mix of maturity of the kids, this can be tough. And, yes, there may be some crying and hurt feelings. Also recruiting the right mix of kids. Some want to be technical only (i.e. work on the robot) and some want to be project oriented. Some want to tell everyone else what to do. All of this needs to be managed.
  • Time management – have a schedule and stick to it. As an Engineer, I know the schedule will most likely be missed, but it’s a goal to shoot for. Keep the meetings on time (for the sake of the parents).
  • Area organization – There needs to be enough room for kids to work on the robot missions (4×8 ft table plus area to move around the edge, about 2 ft on each side. There also needs to be enough area for work on the project. This depends on the project, building/creating the parts of the project and area to practice. Also, a storage area for mission models, project parts, and table storage.
  • Stay connected – Communicate with other coaches and regional groups. The North Texas FLL forum is at (). Don’t go through this on your own. If you need to contact me (frc704mentor@qweztech.com) and I’ll check my contacts to find out who can help in your area. If you’re in North Texas, I can help.

Volumes have been written on coaching so do some reading.

Kid management and robot resource management is another topic. If there is only one brick (Robot Brain) this can be tough.The main thing I have is patience. Since all kids are different this is more of a coaches issues to determine how to organize the kids based on their personalities. Here are some suggestions on organizing the kids.

First, have the team come up with a basic chassis design that will accommodate attachments and can move around the field. This would include, at minimum, a light sensor for line following. Have the best builders build the chassis.


1.       My belief is to let every kids who wants to work on the robot, work on it. The robot portion FLL is organized into missions. They can be logically grouped for the robot to do multiple missions after leaving the base. A good idea is to pair up the kids and have them make the robot do a set of missions. They both work on the programming and the attachments for the mission. Not all kids have a technical aptitude but, I believe, that if they do, it should be nurtured. Also, have the kids help each other if some of them get stuck.


2.       At significant milestones in the missions, have the robot pair present what they did to the group (not every meeting). That way, every one kind of knows what’s going on and it helps toward team work.


3.       All the kids need to work on their project. Most of the time, when one pair is working on the robot, have the others working on the project. Occasionally everyone will need to work on the project for presentation organization.


4.       The kids need to work as a team. Work together, value each other’s ideas, and value each other. There will be the overpowering kids, the ones to talk a lot and telling others what to do. However, there will also be the quiet kids who think things out. These kids need to be given the time to be heard and their ideas are  listened to as much as the overpowering kids ideas. These are the introverts (which is a great thing) whose ideas will become the next Google or get a colony on another planet.


·         Los Altos Robotics (http://www.losaltosrobotics.org:8080/Main/FLL/coaching.html)

·         FIRST Lego League Coaching (http://www.legoleaguecoaching.org/)

·         FLL Resources (http://firstlegoleague.org/challenge/teamresources)

Dr. Ken Berry (Head Referee for the North Texas Region)

Robotics – Getting Involved

I have a passion for Robotics, I want kids of all ages to be involved. If you’re a kids of younger age, typically K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th grade) you can participate on a team as a member. If you’re an older kid, Collage age and above (i.e. adults), you can participate as a mentor and/or a volunteer at an event.

For students, getting involved is fairly easy. You can either find a team that’s already started and join it. Some teams have student size limits, such as JrFLL (Junior FIRST Lego League) and FLL (FIRST Lego League). Or you can talk to a teacher or parent and start a team.

For adults, again, you can find a team and offer to help out. Most teams need adults to help out with building and programming robots, but adults are also needed to help with PR, fund raising, and dealing with kids. Adults can also either start a team or talk with a local school to about starting a team. However, be prepared for a background check.

Bottom line is Get Involved! If you need help or encouragement to get involved leave a comment or e-mail me, Joe Varnell, at FRC704mentor@qweztech.com

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is my favorite because their programs span a wide age range of kids involvement, adults can get involved helping with the ages of kids they feel most comfortable with, and it’s world wide.Event volunteers are needed to help make sure teams and robots are safe, robots are built properly, the event moves as it should. Volunteers don’t need to be technical to help. If you’re just wanting to help, there’s queuing, pit administration, crowd control, and safety. If you’re technically oriented there are jobs like robot inspector.  If you’re an adult and want to work an event you can register with VIMS (Volunteer Information and Matching System) with a step by step guide at VIMS Step by Step.

If you’re looking to start a team it all depends on the age of the team. Below are links on how to started on a team of the desired age.

FIRST Starting teams

JrFLL – grages: K-3; Season Aug – Jan: <Start a team page>  <Find a team to help>

FLL – grades: 4-8; Season registration May; Kickoff Sept; Events Nov-Feb; <Start a team page>  <Find a team to help>

FTC (smaller robots, less expensive) – grades: 9-12; Season registration May; Kickoff Sept; Events Nov-Feb; <Start a team page>

FRC (large robots) – grades: 9-12; Season registration – Oct; Kickoff Jan; Events Mar-Apr <start a team page>

You can sometimes find FIRST events and teams using the FTC and FRC Find teams and event.

Vex Robotics Competition
Vex Robotics
Vex robotics is a really great robotics program based on the Vex Robotics kit. They are also world wide with lots of events.  A robot challenge for the next year is given at the Vex Robotics Championships. You then use the Vex Robotics kit and Vex parts to build a robot to compete in the competition. You can find out how to start a Vex team here. Vex Events can be found at RobotEvents.com.

Best Robotics
Best robotics is smaller and less expensive competition. You’re given a a set of supplies and a challenge. From there you build a robot from the supplies to complete the challenge. Some of the supplies are consumable (i.e. wood, PVC, etc) and some you have to return to BEST (i.e. Robot controllers, motors, etc)

A few other links events

NASA robotics competition

Robotic Events