Earlier this month, I had the privilege of serving as a core values judge at the VA-DC championship tournament. This was my third year as a judge at the championship, and my first as a head judge at the championship level. I had the opportunity to see several teams go through the core values judging rooms on the first day of the tournament, and I was able to serve as a “roaming” core values judge on the second day. My takeaway from talking to teams and other judges? A team that has absorbed the core values and exhibits them naturally will almost always come out ahead of a team that has been coached to recite the core values but has not yet come to embody them.
Use the judging rubrics as preparation
The rubrics are a great resource for teams preparing for tournaments to help them make sure they don’t miss an important element. For example, a team can use the project rubric and robot design rubrics almost like checklists. Durable robot? Check. Problem identification? Check. Sources of information? Check. Review existing solutions? If the team can’t check off an item, that alerts the team to the fact that they might need to do more work.
The core values rubric can be used to guide the team throughout the season. Are they including all team members? Are they showing respect to others? Are they applying FLL values and skills in their daily lives? Discussing the rubric items through the season helps shape the season – and may serve as a roadmap to team members striving to embody the core values. A team with “effectiveness” in mind may be better able to make decisions that bring them closer to their team goals.
You can download the official judging rubrics here: http://www.firstinspires.org/resource-library/fll/judging-rubrics
But don’t be constrained by the rubrics
Sometimes teams come across as overly rehearsed or overly coached. It’s easy to tell when a team is giving judges the answers the team thinks the judges want to hear – rather than providing a genuine response that lets the judges get to know the team and see how they work. At the VA-DC championship this year, it was pretty clear that many teams had been coached to provide an answer along the lines of “all our team members do all aspects of FLL equally and we all like all aspects of FLL equally well.”
If that’s accurate for your team, then it’s the right answer for them to give – and a follow-up question or two will make it pretty clear whether or not it’s accurate. But here’s the thing: the judges aren’t asking trick questions. A question about how the team is organized or what they like about FLL doesn’t have one “right” answer. It’s okay for a team to divide into sub-teams that are available to meet on different nights. It’s okay for a team to have a programming lead and a research project lead. It’s okay for a team to have everyone work on everything. It’s okay to have one person designated to drive the decisions for each area. It’s okay to use a voting process to drive their decisions. There isn’t only one way for a team to work together, so there isn’t only one “right” answer.
Tip: Remember that one of the core values is “We have fun!”
Wait, isn’t what we discover more important than what we win?
Of course it is! This post isn’t meant to be a “how-to” on impressing core values judges. But whether or not FLL team members go on to use their programming or research skills later in life, the core values will always be useful in any school or work endeavor. A team that truly embodies core values such as doing the work, not relying on coaches to have all the answers, and honoring the spirit of friendly competition will be able to apply those values in school, university, and work situations going forward. A team may never figure out how to get a robot to hang from a wall – but all teams can learn to work together to make the attempt.