FIRST LEGO League Week 3: Training, Trials and Tempers

This blog series shares the journey of the FIRST LEGO League team Tech Crew as we progress through all that’s required for this year’s challenge, Nature’s Fury. In early October I was just beginning my journey as a team coach.

Now it’s like an all-systems-go, full-throttle, rocket launch. Thank goodness for High Tech Kids, an organization in Minnesota that supports team-based programs and competitions that celebrate science and technology. They provided us with lots of  valuable resources, including a rookie team training session where we learned about programming, robot design and project preparation.

During the training session Logan (the quietest member of our team) put his efforts into advanced programming, while the remainder of the team focused on robot design and project discussions. Sam got the most out of robot design while Katelyn and Madigan captured ideas on different ways to present the team project during competition. We walked away energized and enthused. Shall I say almost, smug?

And this is how we began our next team meeting. We had missions to assemble, a robot to build, programming to code, and a project to discuss. In three hours. Needless to say, we didn’t get close to checking everything off the list. Another lesson learned for this coach: keep it simple and focused.

The first decision was how to assemble the missions needed for the challenge. After a quick discussion, everyone decided to grab a bag, the instructions, and begin. Each child found a different area of the room to spread out and work.

Fairly soon it was evident that a cargo plane and tower was causing some frustration. The kid’s construction didn’t look like the picture – and it didn’t work. Should I get involved? Should I stand back and watch? Tempers flared as each child attempted a new build without success.

I was just about ready to jump in when, wonderfully, a calm voice rose above the others exclaiming, “Perhaps we should take it apart, start over and follow the directions.” It worked, and the cargo plane and tower are now working. Team lesson learned: follow the instructions. Carefully. And don’t try to substitute parts.

With the missions assembled, the team focused on building the robot, which we decided to name Joey.

Building Joey seemed easy enough, but now what? It was time to talk strategy. Time to decide which missions the team could successfully accomplish in two and a half minutes of playing time. No surprise – everyone had different ideas.

Time for another life lesson: Compromise. I asked the team to rank the missions they wanted to attempt. All five heads, five pairs of eyes, stared at me like I was crazy. Rank? How could they possibly choose when every mission was ‘awesome’? Silly me.

It was obvious we needed more discussions, but with only a few minutes left it was clear we didn’t have enough time to come to any kind of agreement. I desperately wanted to end the week on a positive note, so I sent everyone home with an ‘assignment’ to watch the game video, understand the point system for each mission, and to return the following week with their top two selections.

We never did get to programming or really discussing the project. I guess that’s next week’s goal.

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4 thoughts on “FIRST LEGO League Week 3: Training, Trials and Tempers”

  1. Norton Lam says:

    Don’t worry. Things will get better. The team will start to understand what’s involved and rise to the occasion. I’ve been coaching for 7 years and it happens every year.

    For more tips on coaching, check out:

    Good luck! Maybe I’ll see you at a tournament.

    1. Beth Ambaruch says:

      Thanks for the coaching link. The team is working along and we are definitely making progress.

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