FTC Judge vs Judge Advisor

I’ve been judging FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) competitions for many years. It’s a lot of fun. The kids tell you about their robot and outreach and learnings and more. You also negotiate with other judges to determine the award winners. And the day ends with some super excited kids finding out the result. It’s a great day.

There’s also a judge advisor role. The description includes

The Judge Advisor coordinates the judging process, which includes facilitating group deliberation sessions, ensuring the award decisions are made, and the awards script is written. Sometimes the Judge Advisor trains judges and can help in scheduling the judging interviews. The Judges, Judge Advisor Assistant, and Judge Match Observers look to the Judge Advisor for training materials, schedules, and other general questions throughout the

I was asked a few years ago about being Judge Advisor and passed. I like judging a lot. The judge advisor doesn’t get to interview the teams or make any decisions/negotiate. They are a manager and facilitator.

I got to the event on Saturday and was greeted with the event coordinators telling me their judge advisor couldn’t come unexpectedly and could I do it. I said yes. While it isn’t my first choice of role, I am qualified to. I was also the most experienced judge in the room (by a good amount.) I also appreciate that they asked/told me in the form of a question. If they had asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said no because there was still time to find someone more excited about the role. Day of, choices are limited!

What’s interesting about the combination of managing and facilitating is that I very much like facilitating and very much dislike managing. I was able to train folks, form groups, enforce standards and keep things on track.

I definitely relied on crowd sourcing. I wrote constraints on the board and explained what I was trying to accomplish for groups. Having a dozen people “check your work” real time is great quality control!

Overall, it was fine. We accomplished what we needed to and the judges/event staff were happy with how things went. But I still greatly prefer judging and will continue signing up as a judge for future events!

The circle of FRC and the importance of outreach

Yesterday, Stuyvesant Robotics did a demo at the Winter Garden in Lower Manhattan from 4-7pm. This was very special to me because I found out that FIRST robotics existed at a demo from the same team and the same location. It was many years ago, in fact some of the students doing the demo weren’t even born yet!

Me standing in front of a robot at the winter garden

I’m not exactly sure when the last demo there was but I think it was 2006 or 2007. I remember attending one competition as a spectator and another as a volunteer before volunteering as a mentor starting the 2009-2010 season. Either way, that’s a long time ago.

It’s a lot of fun at an outreach event because you get to share with others what makes this cool. And you get to see excited little kids learn about the robot. The pictures also shows driving a smaller FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) robot and rolling the ball to the big FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) robot to acquire it.

You never know who you will reach at an outreach event. They got me all these years ago. Coming full circle and seeing the event in the same place as a team member was great. Hopefully it won’t be well over another decade before the next demo in this location!

Teenagers showing two young children a robot
Young child driving a robot
young child rolling a ball to a robot

the value of a “talking stick”

Last weekend was the FRC (FIRST Robotics Challenge) kickoff where they announce the game for the season. Our team uses the time after kickoff on Saturday to discuss the rules and strategies in small groups followed up by one large group. (we have a lot of people; this is a very large group). And we use the day after kickoff to brainstorm in a large group all day to come up with a priority list and things to prototype. In past years, we’ve done this an atrium. Some years sitting on the floor and some dragging high school chairs/desks out.

And every year without fail, we have the problem of “sidebar” discussions. This has two impacts. One is that it becomes hard to hear the “main” thread of conversation. The other is that the conversation tends to split off and people don’t hear what others are saying so we can’t move forward as a group.

We try to enforce having to raise your hand and get called on before speaking. But people get excited and… well, lots of people talking.

This year, we used the cafeteria instead of the atrium. Saturday went as expected. When we got to the large group, there were numerous sidebars and it was hard to hear. It’s a long day and some of the kids were getting restless. Which meant more sidebars. Sunday started worse. We used a different part of the cafeteria and the vent was interfering. Forget sidebars, it was hard to hear the person speaking to the group from the other side of the group even when it was the teacher (who projects well) and nobody else was speaking.

We solved this problem by using two microphones.Then we could hear! The mic had a second advantage. Everyone had to raise their hand or we couldn’t hear them. Which meant we didn’t have a big problem with sidebars. There might have been some, but you couldn’t hear them so no problem there.

The mic was like a talking stick. You needed it to speak and it went great. One of the mentors started talking while holding the mic but not into it. (I couldn’t hear him.) I commented “you need to speak into the mic; it’s not a talking stick.”

I was wrong. It was a mic AND a talking stick.