Since we are starting up the new year I thought it would be helpful to map out the general game plan I go by for the season.
Since we tend to coincide with football season, it will make for a good analogy to use quarters. The overall timeline is from FLL challenge release to the qualifier. Assuming we make it past the qualifier then we work up a new game plan for state (and hopefully beyond!)
Kickoff: Team kickoff meeting. I lay out my expectations of the team members (e.g. attend practice, write blog articles, be respectful, be willing to learn new things and, most importantly, have fun together. Work with parents to figure out meeting schedule. Have team choose the team captain (and co-captain if they want) and leaders for team spirit, project, robot, and core values.
1st Quarter: This stage the team is the transition from forming (who is on the team) to storming (who does what role). Key goals are leadership training, fun team-building activities, playing with the legos and programming, and getting them started learning the basic physics that goes into building a robot.
Timeline: 1-3 weeks.
2nd Quarter: This stage is about transitioning the team from storming (who does what role) to norming (how do the individuals perform their role and interact with each other.) This time is focusing more on learning how to create, test, and recreate individual components of the robot and small-level programs that allow the students to test robot features and learn how to control the robot. The team should be focused on learning about the science of the theme, researching project ideas, and developing a game plan for the project. Core values should be emphasized. Practice core values games and play the respect game. Team identity items (logos, costumes, lanyards, etc.) should be figured out.
Timeline: 4ish weeks.
3rd Quarter: This stage is about transitioning the team from norming (how do individuals perform their roles and interact) to performing (making it happen.) The team project should be completed, documented, and have posters made of what you did. The team should create, test, and refine the strategy for the robot competition and work to create the robot body/drive train and begin developing the attachments. Continue to practice core value games and play the respect game. Programmers should begin composing longer programs. Begin crafting the presentations (project, core values) and working out speaking/acting parts. Order team T-shirts if you haven't already.
Timeline: 4ish weeks
4th Quarter: This is the final countdown stage. At this point the team should be performing reasonably well together, folks know what they are good at and how they can contribute, and team morale should be pretty high. It is a stressful time but one that is manageable because they have prepared and practiced. Video them working though core value challenges and give them feedback. The team should work though timed practice robot challenge events (lots of times!) They should practice their core values presentation (videod, with feeback) and they project presentation (also videod, with feedback.) Cell phones/iPads work great for filming. If you can practice with another team and get feedback from them (and give them feedback!) so much the better. Work through talking about the robot and programs. Put together a book of programs, attachments.
Timeline: Whatever time you have left until the meet.
Last 2 minutes: The day or two before the meet, pull together the items for the meet checklist, and make sure everyone has washed their team T-shirt. Have the binders/posters/props/etc. all finished. Figure out rides for everyone. Night before: CHARGE THE ROBOT. Help everyone get a good nights rest! They will be judged on their performance, so crabby/sleepy team members will not be good. Help them all have a good breakfast that morning. During the event: stay positive. Whatever happens, stay positive. The robot breaks, that's ok, they know how to fix it. Sensors aren't working? That's ok, they know how to program without sensors, and they can do it quickly. Something went wrong in a skit? It's ok, the judges won't know you had planned to do something different (make sure you tell them that.) They will look to you as the coach for the energy level they need to have and guidance on what to do. You need to be positive and keep encouraging them to have fun, smile, and do their best. It is a lot of pressure, but it is also a lot of fun because the team is really performing together.
Time's Up: You did it! Celebrate what you were able to accomplish together! Team spirit doesn't end just because the meet is over. If you get to go on to the next round, take a breather and then figure out the game plan for going forward.