Mentoring FLL

By Jenna Baker, Member of the Red Hot Techie Peppers High School Robotics Team

This year, 2011-12, our FTC team mentored two FIRST LEGO League teams: the Shadow Knights and the Rock’n Robo Rabbits. From the beginning of September through mid-December, we helped them strategize about how to tackle everything from their research project to the missions on the mat in this year’s FLL challenge. We taught them how to program, build strong and create smart, effective attachments.

Sometimes, the going got rough. Three days before the Western Missouri/Kansas FLL qualifier, the Rockin' Robo Rabbits primary robot began to limp around like a sick dog. A call went out from the coaches for “all hands on deck.” We all – Rabbits and Techie Peppers alike – worked nearly 24 hours straight to diagnose the problem (two dead motors and a bad light sensor!!), move to a back-up robot and re-write all the programs to work with this slightly different ‘bot. Just eight hours before tournament, everything seemed to be working again.

Then, when the Rabbits arrived at tournament, their back-up ‘bot began to flake out, running slowly and then quickly and then slowly again in the runs it had been performing perfectly just the day before. “What would possibly be wrong?!” we wondered. The answer proved to be fiendishly simple – and totally obscure – the spring in the NXT brick compartment was failing; it would sometimes hold the battery in place and other times it would loosen and the robot would lose “juice.” We frantically helped the kids swap out their brick and get back on the field.

Despite all the chaos, our FLL buddies did great. Not only did they place first and second in robot performance, the Rabbits won Teamwork and the Shadow Knights won the Chairman’s Award at that qualifier. Even better, our kids proved they are such gracious professionals; they were happy, kind and buoyant even when everything was going wrong. We felt like proud parents!

Afterwards, we all buckled down to help the little guys get the “bugs out” of that back-up ‘bot, add new missions to their repertoire and help them practice, practice, practice as they prepared for the Western Missouri/Kansas FLL Regional Championships. We knew if our teams did well there, they had a chance to go to World. Kansas City had won one of the lottery tickets to send their “best” team to World, and we hoped one of ours would be the team to take World by storm.

By mid-January, the Rock’n Robo Rabbits and the Shadow Knights were ready to compete and confident in their robots and presentations. Both teams had worked hard, and we thought “our kids” had a real chance at winning the top slot. And, we were so right!

The Shadow Knights took home the Research award, and the Rock’n Robo Rabbits won the Chairman’s Award. In April, the Rock’n Robo Rabbits will go to St. Louis to compete among 79 of the Worlds’ best FLL teams – in a field of more than 12,000 teams worldwide.

We traveled with the Robo Rabbits to World Festival in St. Louis, MO; we wanted to cheer them all the way to success! It was an amazing competition. The other teams were fierce competitors with amazingly sophisticated robots, smart programs and fun presentations. And, they sure were cute! Still, the Robo Rabbits – with their fuzzy bunny ears, rock-solid robot and patent-worthy project presentation – were ready. They won the first place Inspire Award, the top honor in FIRST robotics. It was super exciting to watch “our kids” take what we’d been teaching them and triumph.