Sunday, December 20, 2015


So the Giveaway will go up later today (most likely during the Star Wars marathon I am hosting before taking the robot kids to see it).  But I have had a lot of pings to see how they did.

Checking the checklist - a lesson from the older team
born of so many mistakes.  These guys have had
their share and so now believe in the checklist too.
So this little team did very well.  I have to admit that I had a pit in my stomach all yesterday as I had the feeling that this might be the year where their high expectations would be dashed and they would learn the hard lesson of the sting of failure.  While you can work very hard, the combination of extreme youth and the variability of running the robot can go against you and you just don't come out above other teams.  But that wasn't the case.

We have been working very, very hard with them on their ability to answer questions and public speak.  Because they are all below 7th grade (most are 4-5th graders), they are shy about taking to unknown adults as well as often unable to understand the point of a question that is vague and open.  That is why most teams that win a judged award at the state level are 7th graders and up.  After the qualifier, where they won the top robot score (and the top score in the state at that point) as well as a judged award in
Supporting their team mates.  All our kids are in driving teams
so they have their chance to hold up their end of the results
robot strategy and innovation, we decided to run them through the ringer to get them ready.  Their work product is very good but their ability to deliver it is weaker than equally qualified teams because of their age.

I asked all the parents to take a week and put their kids on the spot - stopping almost any unsuspecting adult and asking the child to explain their project and robot system to them.  The idea was to get the kids over the fear of talking and to have to field questions constantly.  Everyone took it to heart.  Starting with me - I informed my boy minutes before arriving at a birthday party the day after competition that I was going to select a random parent and would have him explain the stuff.  Better get your elevator pitch ready, I told him.  He of course freaked as he is the one with
In the zone before their set of three judging sessions.  At this point there
is nothing to do but watch them coach each other on their points and smile
the biggest phobia - but as we pulled in - he had developed a pitch.  And he got through it (and apparently didn't die - I pointed out).

We all informed their teachers of their outstanding performance and the need to do this public speaking.  So all the kids were surprised at school when teachers and principals would stop them to hear their pitch as well as most were asked to get up in front of the class and explain.  By that Friday, they had done it so much that they were starting to compete with each other on how many times they had done it.  And then one kid had the realization that his mom (digital head of NOVA) was having a christmas party for her team next door.  They ran up the stairs and before I knew it, had grabbed the poster presentations and ran to the house and did an impromptu judging with the unsuspecting guests (most of whom had judged science fairs, not a surprise).  I was so thrilled as the ploy was working to get them out of their skin and realize that it wasn't the end of the world to put themselves out there to talk to adults.

Now there is history to all this.  I have learned so much from working with the older team.  The first
The mantra is one perfect run in the stadium.  It is exhausting to watch
from the bleachers.  16 teams running at once with MCs screaming out
the progress amid cheers and rock music
year, I had no idea that there was a research project!  Dumb coach.  I also didn't understand how to coach kids to work together - nine 9-year olds couldn't agree on anything.  We ended up 64th out of 64 at the first competition we went to.  One hilarious story was that at the end of that competition, they held a single round elimination for fun.  Being the worst team, we were paired against the top team (who ended up winning robot for the whole world).  Their robot was a full black 'death star' looking thing.  But as can happen, it had a computer glitch and stopped half way.  I was concentrating on my side of the table and watching my guys finally not drop everything and did their best score.  I was thrilled - but I couldn't understand why all the strangers around me were jumping up and hugging me. Seems it was not clear who won - all the refs and head refs were brought around as the 64th team may actually have beaten the Death Star in the fashion of Luke Skywalker.  These 14-yr olds were pale as they might have been eliminated.  As I walked around the gym with them to collect my team - they congratulated me and my team in a very gracious act.  I stopped then and said I soooo hoped that we hadn't as they deserved to go on.  In the end we lost to those gracious boys by only 5 points.  As we moved on, we ran into these kids - the Lexington Pickle Jar Heads - several times and the teams would laugh at how far we had come and enjoy the mentoring they would give at those occasions.  Yesterday we were handed a special invitation as a top performing robot team in Massachusetts.  On Tuesday those Pickle Jar Heads are coming home from college and are getting together to spent 24-hours to do this FLL challenge for fun and they have invited the top few teams in MA to scrimmage them for the public.  How hilarious that the younger siblings of that team that almost stopped their world run were asked!  We have come so far!

The team with their trophies
As I was going to write above but distracted myself - the second year of the older team, we had a skit about PCBs in bottles.  They wrote it and I should have edited their performance more.  They decided to take half the boys who 'couldn't talk to adults' and make them pigs in their Farmer Brown skit.  Well, when 10-yr old boys play pigs and root around on the floor for a 5-minutes while their teammates speak, things can get out of control.  I famously got feedback on their judging sheets that the pigs should refrain from sniffing crotches.  That was the day I decided that traditional presentations would be our thing - not the encouraged skit or song method.  Ha ha.  I had a very enjoyable evening late Friday with the older team sitting around reminiscing about how professional they had become after they had run the little team through their paces and sent them home.

So back to yesterday.  Our goal for the year was to win a judged award at the state level - that would show us that they had growth in their ability to express their work.  They had some trouble getting the robot to score as high as they did at home at first, scoring between 5th and 8th place as the day went on.  Then on their forth run they pulled away from the field and were first by quite a bit.  That lasted until the last run of the day and a team beat us.  Unfortunately they switched the posting to elimination matches so we didn't see it and the kids thought they had the 1st place sewn up for about 10 minutes before I learned from someone that they had been passed.  Guess that was their little failure point.  But winning the 2nd place robot performance a second year in a row over 435 other teams is pretty unheard of - so we were thrilled.  Then the big surprise - we had hoped they would win a second place judged award in one of the three robot categories.  As they went by, we figured that we hadn't accomplished our goals.  Then it was a huge surprise to be selected for the 1st place Inspiration award as the team who best exemplified taking the values and lessons of all the areas of the competition in their lives.  A big trophy and way more than we were hoping for them.  They won four awards this year.  As FLL has a rule that you can only win one at a competition - the only exception is if you win robot performance.   So we just can't get over doing that two years in a row - the parents all had a big dinner out in town.  Fortunate as the party ended up at our house as the celebrating was big.  So much relief at the end of the season.  

Except that as we loaded the robot into the truck and put it into reverse to leave the venue - a small voice from the team in the back asked me the following:

"So how can we improve coach..?"  

They have decided to start working again in January.  

They want the big trophy.  Guess I don't get much of a rest.


  1. Congratulations to all the robot kids! And their earstwhile coach! Huza!
    I l9ve hearing of their adventures and yours, it gives me hope for the future.

  2. Huge congratulations on a fantastic season! I love reading about the robot team and their coach and the achievements. Upwards and onwards!

  3. Wonderful news Tricia, congratulations to all!

  4. What a Christmas present for all involved! Congratulations on a job well done.

  5. Congratulations on a wonderful season...and as for rest? To quote Ben Franklin - 'There's sleepng enough in the grave', or in modern parlance - we rest when we're dead! Why am I not surprised that one of your favorite pipsqueaks chirped up with a plaintive improvement query! So enjoy the holidays - bask in glory for a few days - then it's back to the drawing boards to conspire, create and win (rhymes with Nguyen - right?)so proud to know how well you did this year! :D

  6. What great kids. Big congratulations to all them for their success and to you for encouraging their commitment and focus.