Tag: brainstorming

You can brainstorm this summer, even if you don’t meet

New coaches out there — don’t forget that you and your team can brainstorm and stay engaged during the summer even if your school or group does not meet until the fall. I encourage my girls to check in regularly on the VEX Starstruck Forum, where there are lots of people actively engaged in strategy discussions, and asking great questions on rule clarifications.

One particular clarification we got recently was, you can’t drive under the fence. I personally think it’s the worst-written rule ever; I’ve read the entire manual several times, and this one went right by me. <SG6> says, “Robots may not make contact with the foam field tiles in their own Zones.” Sure, of course that screams out “YOU CAN’T DRIVE UNDER THE FENCE.” Um, no. Not that we wanted to — from a strategy perspective I don’t think it’s in your best interest to do so, but I’ve had several kids and parents ask me numerous times where it says in the rules that you can’t do so.

But I digress. As a coach, if your team is not meeting this summer, I recommend that you take some time and read the Forum to get a sense of what you don’t know you don’t know. The things you’ll read will open a whole new world, and will identify places where you team will want to allocate time and create sub-tasks and assign jobs. How many stars do you want to be able to hold at once? How many do you want to throw at once? How will you pick them up off the field? Throw them over the fence? Deliver them from your picking-up mechanism to your throwing mechanism? Does your team want to go for the 12-point hang? How will you incorporate autonomous scoring into your robot design? What about those big poofy cubes?

If you’re in email contact with your team, encourage them to read the Forum, and consider setting up your own Yahoo group or other email community so that your kids can stay engaged if they are so inclined.

Real-live tournaments have already taken place! Not just scrimmages — tournaments that will qualify people for state championship slots. Find their videos on YouTube (links can be found on the VEX Forum) and see what other people’s robots are doing, see how other people are approaching the challenge — it will surely spark ideas for your and your team!

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Brainstorming: Take Your Time

If you’re starting your Starstruck robot already, congratulations! You’re ahead of the pack, and you’ve got plenty of time to do things the right way.

What is the “right way”? Well, obviously there is no one “right way” to go through the engineering design process, but there are some roads that are less helpful to travel down. One mistake we made last year (Nothing But Net) was zeroing in on a double-flywheel ball-launching design almost immediately. We did not take the time to prototype catapult or puncher devices, or even other flywheel types. In our defense, (a) we were a brand new rookie team, (b) we are parent-funded, and in our first year did not have a big cabinet full of metal parts sitting around to tinker with, and (c) both students and coaches at the time had limited engineering/VEX experience and knowledge.

Think About Individual Tasks

This year in our brainstorming process, the girls were getting caught up in thinking about the design of the entire system of dealing with stars, including both picking up stars and getting them over the fence. So we’ve broken the task down further to just getting stars over the fence, ignoring for now how the robot will pick them up or deliver them to the launcher.

Their ideas at this stage don’t have to be practical, don’t have to be pretty, don’t have to fit together with any other system, and don’t have to even be made out of VEX parts (one of our girls is using a clipboard & duct tape to simulate a tray to hold a star). It’s important to keep a very open mind at this stage, and not to kill any ideas before you’ve had a chance to investigate them at some level that’s deeper than just talking or drawing.

Breaking down the design process into this one very specific component has allowed my girls to get un-stuck in their thinking, and not be caught up in trying to figure out the whole system all at once (which led to them mentally killing off many ideas as “wouldn’t work”).

Document the Road Not Taken

If you’re interested in competing for the Design Award this year, it’s important to document the ideas that didn’t work, as well as the ideas that you choose to keep and move forward with. The team should include a small, basic diagram of each thing they are prototyping, explain what happens when they test it, and why it is a dead-end. Or, an idea might be a dead-end in itself, but parts of the concept might still be useful and can be borrowed or modified for use in other prototype ideas.

The judges want to see that the team did look at and test a lot of different ideas, and the only way that they will know that is if there is documentation of it in the team’s design notebook.

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