What is the sound of one piston slapping?
What is the sound of one piston slapping?
Illustration for article titled I am become frustrate. Rant.

I may have mentioned before that I coach a First Lego League robotics team. A team made up entirely of 6-8th grade girls.

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Some of them are just painfully dull, but most are very clever. We've managed to go to state several times, though we have yet to even achieve relevance there. We're mostly okay with this because a lot of the successful teams meet year-round, including over the summer, while we only meet thrice a week for 3 months a year.

My fellow coaches and I also suspect the other teams are cheating, because there are limits to what I can believe a middle schooler designed. But that's not really relevant.

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My issue is that the girls will not apply themselves.

This is a voluntary thing. They had to sign up for it, and pay money (none of which to me :|) for it. We even made them write essays about why they wanted to join, since last year we had pretty much the entire school join and maybe 5 people who didn't think it was just after-school social club.

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Even still, though, It's almost impossible to get them to actually work towards any sort of goal. I think there are a lot of things behind this; they don't have enough confidence in themselves, they legitimately do not understand how legos work as well as someone who grew up building things with them, and they don't properly understand the relation between their effort and our success.

It's not like they don't care. A few of the worst offenders have expressed significant desire to go to state. It's just that they either don't realize they have to apply themselves, or they don't adequately feel like they can make a difference. Most attempts to teach them programming or construction principles have resulted in "But I can't do ____" responses.

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Of course, there are also a few who are just plain disruptive. I would really like to just kick them out, but since their parents paid money for it, that would cause a lot of angry people.

More and more, it's looking like one of the teams this year won't even have a working robot by competition. If history is any indication, the last few practices will stretch into and beyond the night and consist of frantic, crazed work.

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But I'm tempted to just say no. They always knew how much time they had, and I repeatedly told them that they needed to pick up the pace, but watching One Direction videos on youtube seemed more important, I suppose. After all, we already do far more than coaches are really supposed to in terms of design and programming, but if we retreated to the "hands off" approach FIRST advocates, we would probably never even have a robot at all. Also, I wouldn't be able to play with legos. At least not without people looking at me strangely.

But I won't. I'm pretty sure I'm psychologically incapable of purposefully making somebody sad. And at the end of the day, we'll have built a brand new chassis instead of just reusing the one we've used for the last 5 years, implemented daring and challenging propulsion solutions (Tracks!), and have a robot designed*, built, and programmed* by the actual team members. Maybe we won't do well at competition, but we won't have a monolithic cube of legos that obliterates the field accomplishing every task in one run through highly convoluted and intricate systems that would make Rube Goldberg proud.

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That's an early prototype of our robot at the top, there. This year's challenge has a rather high-value obstacle section, so we figured we'd go all-out and use the tracks to dominate the obstacles. Unintentional features: if the robot flips over, it will continue driving in the same direction just fine, since the entire body is within the tracks. It can, also, actually climb over the 2x4 walls and fall to its death. This is something we have to watch. Please ignore how chaotic my desk is.

*Designs may be highly influenced by me. They're middle-schoolers, not engineers. They need guidance.

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