It was an emotional rollercoaster at COSI for our FLL tournament on Saturday. Although we entered the tournament regularly scoreing 400-600 points, our eV3 brick suffered a catastrophic failure the morning of the tournament wherein it could not even drive straight. This was the exact same failure we saw at our State Tournament this spring when our robot would veer off at odd curves with even a single steering block. Unlike simple deflection or distance errors, we can not programmically correct for this type of error.
On the pratice table, ecoBot couldn’t solve a single mission due to this failure. We got a -24 pts (3 touch penalties, no missions solved) on our official practice round. Panic set in and there was the risk of just giving up. Manfred and I had to push the kids not to give up, make them realize they could still get enough points to advance, and help them prioritize work within the short time they had to build impromtu attachments, program and test on the practice tables.
We had to find out how to do a factory reset on the eV3, borrow a cable to upgrade the firmware and reinstall or rewrite all the code from scratch. Then they had to test out their code during the limited times they had on the practice tables which were a free-for-all.
In an amazing effort, JP and Devin got 371 pts on their first official run for a comfortable 3rd place out of 21 teams. After 2 more rounds, only 1 team was able to leapfrog us by a few points and push us into 4th at the end of the Robot Challenge. We thought we had done the near impossible. The best life lesson of the season was encapsulated in those 90mins – never give up no matter what the odds. Never quit.
Unfortunately, with our day’s robot problems the scores from our Robot Judging were only average since the robot judging occured early in the day before we could fix ecoBot. Our Core Values judging was our strongest, yet even here were were dinged for “Kids do the Work” despite much of the content a rehash of last year’s topics and Beckett writing all the copy and decorating the boards.
One comment suggested that our boards looked too good compared to our presentation. Beckett is very creative and an excellent artists, but the team is also excels at presentations. Half the kids are on my team advaced to the Destination Imagination Improv State Championship last year.
Most surprisingly, we began our day with an awful experience with the Project Judging which was the area we focused most of our efforts and felt we had the strongest entry. Since we began our FLL season on June 1, we put in well over 100 hours on our Research Project and had one of the two most sophisticated projects we saw at the event (the other being a mobile app that won the Project award).
We were one of the first teams to present at 8:45, and the kids began with their skit to demonstrate how we came up with the idea of ecoSmart and why it was needed. The room was extremely loud with several teams presenting at the same time it was hard to hear.
After the skit, the two judges immediately questioned our kids in several different ways if they really did the work. It would’ve helped if the kids mentioned that we’ve probably put in many times more hours than most other teams since Jun 1st, but I think they were taken back by the line of questioning. The judges were very stern, rarely smiled and didn’t ask a single question about the ecoSmart.xyz web app itself or anything about the content on our poster.
When Mateo tried to begin presenting our project by explaining the problems ecoSmart solved he was cut off 3 times by the judges and gave up. The judges again cut off the kids when they were telling them the sources they used in response to their questions. The aggressiveness of the judges surprised our kids and they became more passive in the face of the hostile judges. It was totally unlike any of the three previous tournaments we had participated in.
At the awards ceremony we failed to advance with the top 7 teams despite placing 4th in the robot, a strong Core Values and very strong Project. We were all shocked. When we got our scores at the end of the tournament we found the main reason for our failure was the Project score. Here were our lowest sub-scores for the Project:
- Sources of Information – only two sources: (we cited 4 sources our poster and the kids recited 3 before the judges cut them off)
- Problem Identification – details missing: Mateo tried three times to list the four problems we solved with ecoSmart.xyz but he was cut off each time by the judges
- Team Solutions – confusing: this is a result of the judges cutting off our kids and not letting them explain their project
- Presentation Effectivness – minimal organization: the judges were very agressive and shut the kids down by repeatedly by not letting them answer questions or explain what problems ecoSmart.xyz solves and how it does so.
- Team Spent more time coming up with solution – The judges dinged us because they thought we “spent too much time coming up with solution” which is odd since they didn’t ask any timeframes (just what other ideas we considered). A core part of the entrepreneurial process is exploring several deadends before finally discovering an idea that solves a real and significant problem in an innovative and efficient way. I couldn’ve directed the team to the best idea from our brainstorm very early but that is not part of the natural process.
Here are several important lessons the kids learned from the day though:
- Never quit, no matter how bad the situation seems (bouncing back from the robot malfunction was more impressive than winning this first level tournament)
- Judges are just like other people and come with their own emotions, biases and predispositions
- Sometimes you have work much harder and be much better just to have an even shot and even then don’t expect to success every time
- Success is a statistical process and creme will rise to the top eventually
- Prepare to hostile questions, misdirection and omissions by keeping to a script in pleasant if assertive way – learn how to sell your ideas and self into any situation