here is a subcategory in Robot Design under Mechanical Design called Mechanical Efficiency. This is usually interpreted to mean efficient use of parts. It seems pretty innocuous and self evident on the rubric, but few teams realize how this criteria plays out in the judging room. If they did there wouldn't be so many monster robots being promoted on YouTube. There is nothing wrong with having a big robot. There is nothing wrong with having a small robot. Efficient is "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense". The adjudication of efficiency is based on how much MORE were you able to accomplish by adding more complexity to your design. A big robot that achieves a LOT more than a little robot can do quite well, but this is a gamble. The reason that this is a risk is because you are taking the risk that another smaller robot would not be able to do just as much as your robot did. So how does this play out on in deliberation? All attributes of your mechanical design are debated until we can compare side-by-side the benefits of each robot design and describe the outcomes produced by each. As long as a big robot is out-performing a little robot, there is no detailed calculation of efficiency, there isn't time for that. But with all things being equal as far as a robot being mechanically designed for reduced program complexity, consistency of execution, number of missions, number of missions per run, reuse of attachments and difficulty of missions chosen, if two teams are comparable across all of these aspects of mechanical design, the smaller robot wins, hands down! (Literally, because deliberation ends). No complex math required.
But let's not stop there. This is quite a profound statement it's worth repeating. Efficient is "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense". I didn't realize how profound until I spent the last few weeks with my son debating the virtues of core values. As recently as a month ago I was joking with some judges that my 12-year-old son refuses to be on the same team as his 9-year-old brother. I just assumed that Inclusion was a core value battle that I couldn't win. When we attended the Houston Regional Championship, I asked him to videotape the awards ceremony so that I could participate in the high-five line. Afterwards he had a deep desire to win. We have been participating for 3 years now without his team qualifying, so I was puzzled about the change. It turns out that looking through the lens and watching 30 teams jump up for joy with utter elation for an hour was VERY moving to him. He wanted to experience that joy. A few days later, the first sign of change came when he agreed to accept his brother on his team. I was quite proud of this breakthrough and I thought I could check that off my list, but we mustn't forget about Integration as well. A week later my son called me over and started writing on our whiteboard. He really wanted to make sure he understood core values, so he told me he understood why inclusion would be good for his team, but why would he ever need that outside of FLL? This question surprise me since 1) it meant he really wanted to embrace core values, his hand and voice shook a little because he was frustrated he hadn't already mastered this value and 2) I didn't have a quick response that I thought would be convincing. We continued this discussion for a few days where I grasped for answers such as "You don't always get to pick your team, so you should practice making due with what you have". Though I believed this to be a good answer, I was somehow not quite satisfied (this answer encouraged pity which is not what under-valued kids seek). I discovered I have known the answer all along.
Even when you can choose your team, you should STILL practice inclusion. The reason this is the rarest core value in practice is because kids want to win. The reason my son didn't understand why it could possibly be important was he is continuously surrounded by exclusive organization being a sign of success. I was the perpetrator of this problem when I thought I could solve all my team problems by being more selective in my recruiting phase. There is an unspoken negative connotation with both the words inclusion and diversity. Some may perceive that you are weakening the team when you have to take pity on someone that you add to the team for the sake of inclusion. Inclusion is NOT about pity, and the recent discussions about *efficient use of parts* juxtaposed in my conscience with my search for a good answer to my son's questions revealed to me the true answer that I now realize I must share with whoever will listen.
I have judged across all 3 categories of FLL judging and at local, regional and world competitions. It is rare to see teams that embrace inclusion. It's not rare to hear a team in Core Values judging state: "We learned about inclusion". What is rare is teams that will give their weakest members equal time during a presentation, and quietly listen and respect the answer they have to contribute. It's not so rare that I might not sometimes see it more than once, such as at the Houston Regional Championship where I saw it twice, but it's rare enough that I don't always see it at every event I judge. Having witnessed it you might think that I can confirm that teams that practice inclusion sacrifice performance when they practice inclusion. They do not. Most of the teams embracing inclusion do considerable better on average than other teams. How can this be?
Efficient use of parts. A team that embraces inclusion, not out of pity, but out of truly valuing all their team mates, will be some of the most powerful teams because they leave no part or person underutilized.
Back to my son's question: Why should I practice inclusion outside of FLL? Because when we underutilize any member of our community, we are not efficiently using all of our parts. When I say that everyone has value, I am not encouraging us to give everyone an award for a job well done when it was not. What I am advocating is that we actual value every person that comes to us wanting to be a contributor. We should take the time to find that person's talent and give them the opportunity to provide that value to the team and community. Just like the robot game where it is SO easy to be wooed by big robots that we forget that we want efficient use of parts; it is equally tempting to want only the most valuable team members that we don't see the value in all potential team members we already have all around us.
I am not saying this is easy. This is hard. But just like the little girl on Brainiac Maniacs whose eyes lit up when she told me that when she heard the flower and fire missions were the hardest missions, she insisted that she needed to complete them (AND she did); I will honor her sentiment and accept the challenge to take on the hardest FLL core value: Inclusion.
I am a very generous mother. I have given my son the gift of failure 3 years in a row. But I can't really take all the credit, the first 2 years were unintentional. There are plenty of stories about winning and books on how to have a winning robot, but this is the story no one else is telling and I am proud to have experience it so that I can share it with you now.
Year One. I was VERY naive my first year coaching. I dropped the ball on getting my son registered for the school robotics club so by the time I found out, the only way he could be included was for me to be a lead coach so another team could be formed. How hard could this be? I love Legos, my degree is in Electrical Engineering, I started programming when I was 11-years-old AND I had 5 years of experience teaching Computer Science at ACC. I was more prepared than anyone I know to take on this challenge.
What I didn't realize is that 9-year-old children get distracted within 30 seconds of you lecturing to them, they think they know more than you and will ignore everything you tell them to prove it, and they feel no need to hide it from you when they are bored (with a few exceptions). Out of utter despair a month before the competition, I started inviting children for one-on-one coaching in hopes that someone could get points on the board (surely this teamwork think was a pipe dream) and I committed the ultimate sin. I did some of the work (okay, I did a lot of the work, but I did let them do some of it).
Well, I don't have to tell you how that turned out, but I will. The children that I *coached* on how the robot worked made absolutely no mention of the design features during the robot design interview, and the children that ran chaotic through my meetings were very well-spoken, could answer the judges questions directly and even rescued the project presentation when one of the kids forgot his lines (though it's possible he never knew them). But mostly they were really good at just winging it which wasn't enough to make much of an impression on the judges.
I never back down from a challenge. After I went through my 5 stages of grief, I emerged more determined then ever that I would fix everything that went wrong the first year.
Year Two, First Reboot. This time I started a private club because I wanted to make sure I didn't have any equipment issues (from 5 year laptops that had no WIFI, bluetooth or USB ports) and that I could remove children that weren't there to learn robotics. I had good intentions, and I knew that I could not help do any of their robot design or missions for them, which I am proud to say is probably my only achievement that year. But my ultimate sin is that I still wanted to win and once again started getting too involved in the Project presentation and in the process probably alienated some parents (most of them don't speak to me anymore). I realized my error at our last rehearsal before the competition when the boys weren't very focused and a parent directed them to "show that you did the work" and her son said "but we didn't." I knew all was lost at that very moment. Perhaps their disinterest wasn't that they all had ADHD, but that they didn't feel any ownership of something they didn't work very hard for. And they couldn't feel gratitude for the help that they didn't really request.
Okay, I learned my lesson, I can't do any of the robot work AND I can't do any of the project work. How can I possibly get it wrong again. I was going to be ready for year three.
Year Three, Second Reboot. This time I would insist that they did all of their robot work and project work, but I had a lot of energy and determination to spare, so I busied myself planning workshops and scrimmages. I had already judged at multiple events at the end of my second season to gather as much knowledge as possible so that I could *advise* my team. I was going to coach the core values team that knew intimately what Coopertition meant. But as I hosted each event, my teams ran and hid in their rooms to play. I had no pictures of them helping to build the 15 competition tables for the league, because they didn't (though their parents did help and for that I am very grateful). I started the season with no expectations of winning that year, but had at least hoped that they would have lots to talk about in their Core Values interview. They didn't. Because they didn't do any of the Coopertition work, they didn't find any of it worth mentioning.
A week before our qualifier after my son had spent most of his meetings goofing off because as he puts it: "I thought you wanted me to have fun. That's a core value right?" and all their missions were broken because they had made so many changes without retesting, I finally told him to go ahead and program as many missions as he could alone since we didn't figure out how to do it as a team. We were unlikely to qualify, but wanted to see what he could do if there was no pressure to perform. He finished 110 points worth of missions 3 days later.
As we had our last meeting the night before the qualifier I heard him say to his teammates, "Why weren't we programming since Week 1?". We went to our qualifier and scored 65 points out of the possible 110 that he had prepared and did not qualify as I expected. The difference is that unlike previous years when he felt no ownership of the work and hated losing and didn't want to participate again, this time he came away from the event inspired (it helped that the Immortals showed them their project and also asked them about his project). His eyes had been opened. He presented his own work, but realized he could have done better and couldn't wait to prove to himself that he could. He asked me when he would age out and was excited that he has 3 more tries to get to World.
Trying to put a positive spin on it, I told him he was very close, had he been able to execute on his planned missions he could have qualified. He replied, "I don't want to qualify on the robot score alone, it has to be the whole picture. We need to meet next Friday and start preparing for next season now!". We will at least wait until after the holiday.
There are only 3 categories of judging. I am totally ready for year 4. Rebooting now...
Stay tuned for the rest of the story, we have 3 more years to write it.
FLL Coach since 2015