Robot Obedience School entered the FIRST® LEGO® League for the first time in 2016, with the "Animal Allies" challenge. We had a team of five students aged 9-11 (school years 4-6).

The team called themselves "Fins, Feathers and Fur" to tie in with the theme. The students studied a science project, played the robot game, and learned about FLL Core Values such as "Gracious Professionalism®". The students really stretched their abilities through project-based learning, and their coach had to learn a few things about building a team!

For the science project, the team chose to study sharks, and looked for ways to improve human-shark interaction. They discovered that sharks aren't interested in eating humans - we are too bony, and we have haemoglobin in our blood, which they don't like. Sharks would much rather eat a squid than a human. However, the sharks can only find out that they don't like us by an "exploratory bite". The exploratory bite can be disastrous for a human. How can we avoid the exploratory bite? The team found several existing deterrents, including wearing a stripy wetsuit, which makes the wearer look like a sea snake. Several species of man-biting sharks are afraid of sea snakes, so this avoids the exploratory bite. They also found several other deterrents. The team presented their project by writing and performing a skit.

For the robot game, the team had to design, build and program their own robot to perform as many missions as possible in 2min30sec! The team started preparing in April using previous years' challenges, and started to develop their robot. Many lessons were learned, and the robot design evolved to address each problem that the team found. When the Animal Allies challenge was released in late August, the team looked at the missions and continued to evolve their robot. They worked on various robot attachments, specialised to each mission problem. Late in October, some missions started to come together. The day before the tournament, the team rehearsed their 5 missions and found some late integration issues. They worked far longer than usual trying to get everything to work reliably.




The FLL Core Values guide the whole process. They encourage the team to work together, to display Gracious Professionalism towards each-other and to other teams, and encourage them with "what we learn is more important than what we win". The kids learn that "The coaches and mentors don't have all the answers", and "The kids do the work". We did team-building exercises, giving the whole team just a short time to collaborate to solve a problem. Slowly, these 5 kids, who initially behaved like a "herd of cats", transformed into a cohesive team! Not only did the team grow, the coach grew too!

At the tournament, the team brought together more than they had practised beforehand. Their first round of the robot game scored 50 points, placing them in first place for a while. Their project skit was performed and went to plan. The whole team pitched in to answer questions. They proudly showed off their robot and the programs that made it work at the Robot Design Executive Summary. Their second robot game earned 64 points, despite a few breakdowns and a few penalties, landing them in 4th place. The referees promised they would dance "The Worm" if any team broke 100 points, so the teams pushed harder. Their third robot game scored 131 points, being the only score over 100 points on the day! The referee had to dance "The Worm", which was spectacular. With their top score in the robot game, team "Fins Feathers and Fur" won the Robot Performance trophy!

(If you are confused about the missions, they are explained very nicely in this YouTube video.)

The kids had a great day, and a very positive experience. The project, the robot game and the core values are tools serving to grow the next generation of scientists and engineers. FIRST LEGO League gives children much more purpose than playing computer games. They have all grown in ability and confidence through the experience of doing the work and then presenting it to others. And the fun continues after the tournament, with exhibition matches and meeting up with other teams to share experiences and build each other up in the spirit of Gracious Professionalism.

We will be meeting again in 2017, starting with a weekly RoboClub. Please contact Robot Obedience School for more details.

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