The Super Bowl of Technology Education
Though many students love making things with technology, tech ed has long taken a backseat to more established after school activities like sports. In 1992, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, addressed this situation by holding the first FIRST Robotics Competition. He said to the world: “I want to compete for the hearts and minds of kids with the excitement of the Super Bowl.” – source
Since then FIRST has grown substantially, reaching more than 400,000 K-12 students across 4 competitions:
- FIRST Lego League Jr. (ages 6 to 10)
- FIRST Lego League (ages 9 to 14, up to 16 outside the US)
- FIRST Tech Challenge (grades 7 – 12)
- FIRST Robotics Competition (high school)
This fall we had the pleasure of coaching two Lamorinda (California) teams as they entered the First Lego League competition for the first time. Several TechLX teachers and I have been working with these Lamorinda hackers for about a year now. First, we went through our Arduino Robotics class and now have moved into the FLL competitions.
Working together as a group prior to forming a team is highly recommended! My good friend Eva Carrender has been working with FLL teams since it started in the late 90s. She always tells people to form a club and practice first, see who is truly dedicated, then form a team. Even so, go into your first FIRST competition with tempered expectations. Rarely does a first year team make it past the qualifiers (the first level of the competitions). Though that doesn’t stop it from being extremely rewarding, and setting you up for a great season 2!
At the Berkeley Qualifier we held our own, getting lots of points, though we did not qualify this year. But we learned a ton about the process, had lots of fun, and won an award for the presentation side of the competition. We’ll spend the off season building more robots and simulating the competition over and over until we’re ready to qualify next year!
What’s the Cost?
For a team of 6 students I’d recommend a budget of $1,350 plus travel and food. And if you do qualify, there will be additional costs for the next round of competition.
- Team Registration – $225
- Qualifier Registration – $85
- FLL Challenge Set – $75 (gives you the materials to practice the competition at home)
- 2x Core LEGO Mindstorms Education EV3 Kits – $759.90 ($379.95 each)
- 2x LEGO Mindstorms Education EV3 Expansion Set – $199.90 ($99.95 each)
If you’re interested in starting your own FLL team I recommend reading through these resources. And if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org! Best of luck, and happy hacking.