An award winning coach talks about his team’s design approach to the FLL project

I’m very fortunate to have an internationally renowned FIRST coach and the 2008/2009 Northern California FLL “Outstanding Coach/Mentor Award” recipient easily accessible.

Alan LeVezu was the coach for the award winning Lego Guards – Power Puzzle team. They won the Champions Award at the Nor Cal Championship Tournament and won the 1st Place Robot Design/Programming Award at the World Festival, along with getting several 400 scores on the table. Alan currently coaches the FTC team 2848 – Techno Guards (also World Championship engineering award recipients).

To say Alan is an amazing coach, engineer and all things FIRST enthusiast is an understatement.
So, I thought I’d ask him a few questions about the FLL project.

HB — What is your personal view on the project portion of the FLL challenge?

AL — Everyone knows that the FLL competition is divided into 4 categories: Robot Performance, Robot Design, Teamwork and Project. This would lead you to believe that team preparation time should be equally split among all 4 parts. The way I see it, the time spent on your project is worth more than 25% of the competition scoring, and is probably worth more than 50% – if you add everything up.

HB — How do you figure that?

AL — The way I look at it, Robot Performance is a slice of time that reflects the robot’s design. That means you can’t spend time on robot performance, all you can do is spend time on robot design: enhancing design, operator skills, etc. So now we’re down to just three categories to work on: Design, Project and Teamwork. The teamwork part of the score also envelopes the rest of what the team does – and in fact should constantly be worked on all the time. So now we’re down to 2 parts – Robot Design and Project. Right there we’re over 25%!
If you add in the fact that the core values of FLL underlie every scoring category, and that those values are most easily referenced, learned, and displayed during the project experience, you can see how important the project becomes!

HB — If that’s how you see it, how did you have your team approach the project and how did you balance the time?

AL — (chuckle) I did it as an engineering problem… what else?  If you look at the requirements for time, in order for the robot to be ready for competition, the robot needs to be complete and ready to go 1 day before. It needs to be running at the level that the team wants about a week before.  The project portion has a much longer time-line. Working backwards, at worst case, the students need to be practicing the presentation at -2 weeks, memorizing and tweaking at -4 weeks, building props and prepping at -6 weeks,  writing the script at -7 weeks, completing research/finalizing solutions at -8 weeks, final research at -9 weeks,  etc.

In my team, at the beginning of the year, I had the kids figure out the project time-line. They were determined to have the project done and really learned at least 3 weeks before the tournament so that they could present it to the community. They realized that most of the work needed for the project would be in the research end of it and agreed that they would focus the majority of their time at the beginning of the season on the project. That way, when the crunch time came for robot and they were panicked about getting that done, the project was already out of the way and ready to go.

In fact, they focused so much on the project that at our first scrimmage (about 6 weeks before the qualifying tournament) their highest score on the table was a 40. But those next 6 weeks were spent almost entirely on the robot… at each meeting they did the presentation once to keep it fresh and to tweak it, and that took 10 minutes. The rest of the time (we met a lot… 3x a week, 4 hours each) was spent on the robot design. Then at the Qualifier, they were awarded the 1st Place Robot Performance Award and the Director’s Award, and went on to get a 400 score at the Championship.

HB — Wow, your team really DID engineer the project!