FLL Basics (The ABC's of FLL)

What is FIRST LEGO League?
projectmazeFIRST LEGO League (FLL) is an exciting alliance between FIRST and the LEGO® Group. It’s a robotics program for 9 to 16 year olds (9 to 14 in US/CAN/MEX), which is designed to get children excited about science and technology -- and teach them valuable employment and life skills.  Teams of up to 10 kids program an autonomous robot (using a LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot set) to score points on a thematic playing surface, create an innovative solution to a problem as part of their Project, all while guided by the FLL Core Values. These three elements - the Robot Game, Project, and FLL Core Values - make up what we call our yearly Challenge.

What sets FLL apart from other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs?
FLL combines the engineering challenge of a robotics competition with real-world problem solving and inventing.  FLL team members learn science and technology skills at the same time as valuable employment and life skills.
The FLL Core Values are the cornerstones of the FLL program. They are among the fundamental elements that distinguish FLL from other programs of its kind. By embracing the Core Values, participants learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork.
Our Core Values are as follows:

  • We are a team.
  • We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
  • We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together.
  • We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  • What we discover is more important than what we win.
  • We share our experiences with others.
  • We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
  • We have FUN!

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What can I expect from FLL?
Each year FLL releases the Challenge in early Fall. Teams may start to meet before then, but the Challenge release day is when teams learn the details of this year’s Challenge and really start working. Teams usually meet one (1) or two (2) times per week for six (6) to eight (8) weeks.
How long your team meets may depend on many factors such as when your team plans to attend a tournament. Tournament dates vary from region to region, so your coach will need to check the schedule. Your team’s coach may adjust the number and length of the meetings as needed.  Check with the coach if you have any questions about the meeting schedule.
Many teams spend time at each meeting working on all three (3) parts of the FLL experience: The Core Values, the Robot Game, and the Project. Some teams choose to divide into sub-teams so that different groups are working on different tasks.  Throughout the season, your child might work with teammates on tasks such as:

  • Building a LEGO MINDSTORMS robot and attachments
  • Programming the robot to move on its own and perform missions
  • Learning about engineering and physics concepts (sometimes learning them the hard way)
  • Testing different designs and making adjustments
  • Learning about the Challenge theme
  • Choosing a real-world problem to research
  • Inventing a solution to the problem the team chose
  • Presenting the team’s solution to other people

Your commitment to your child’s involvement in FLL is crucial to his or her success in the program. FLL is a journey of self-discovery for everyone involved:  team members, coaches, parents, and volunteers. Please consider mentoring your son or daughter’s team in your area of expertise, planning fundraisers, or providing a place for the team to meet. You’ll be glad you did! Alongside adult Mentors, FLL teams solve problems using engineering concepts, presentation techniques, and robots.  Everyone learns skills they can use for life, including respect, professionalism, teamwork, leadership, creativity, and spirit.   

What can I expect from my child?
magsuccessKids will learn: our Core Values, Gracious Professionalism®, Coopertition®, responsibility, hands-on problem solving, and real-world applications of science and math concepts.
They will gain: self-confidence and self-esteem, applicable knowledge of science and technology.  
They will discover: different career possibilities, they can make positive contributions to society, and they can engage with their community.

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FLL by the Numbers
There were 18,323 teams registered worldwide for the 2011 FOOD FACTOR® season!

FoodFactorchart

Kids who participate in FIRST programs are:

  • 50 percent more likely to attend college
  • Twice as likely to major in science or engineering
  • Three times as likely to major specifically in engineering
  • Young women in FIRST programs are four times more likely to pursue science and engineering in college
  • Minority members of FIRST teams are more than twice as likely to enter the fields of science and engineering
    Source: Brandeis University study

What is the cost?
Each team decides how they will pay for team costs. Some teams are funded by a school or community organization, but most teams use fundraising to pay for some or all of their team expenses. Fundraising as a team builds unity and develops enthusiasm for success. Besides the obvious monetary benefit, it fosters a sense of ownership in the team. You can find some fundraising ideas here.  Below are the start-up costs for an average FLL team. Please check with your coach about how they would like to handle registration and team costs.

  • FLL Team Registration: $225 (Required)
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS® NXT set with software: $420
    Available for Purchase when you register a Team; this is the recommended Kit, but any LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot may be used for FLL. This is a one-time cost, as the set is reusable year after year.
  • Field Setup Kit (FSK): $75
    All teams must have access to an official FLL Field Setup Kit. The FSK is the practice field for your team’s robot, and it changes each year based on the Challenge theme. Only one (1) may be purchased per team registration.
  • FLL Competition Table: approximately $75 to build at home
  • Laptop Computer: approximately $300 (if one is not available)
  • Tournament Entry Fees: approximately $50-$100 (varies by location)

Estimated Startup Cost: $800 – $1200
Your team may have additional expenses like: office supplies, team shirts, snacks, and travel expenses.

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How can I help?

  • Ask Questions!  Parents can provide immeasurable help to their child’s success in FLL by doing one simple thing: asking questions. Parents ask their children what theycirclehands learned in school each day. So ask them questions like: “What did you do at FLL practice today?” “What problems did you face? What was the solution?” “What’s your favorite part of the Challenge so far?” By asking questions and staying engaged with your child, you are actively participating in their success.
  • Volunteer! Volunteers include community leaders, employees of corporate sponsors, university students and faculty, parents, teachers, and FIRST alumni and friends. You don’t need technical experience to volunteer. Ask your team’s coach what they need. Parents can often help by:
  • Serving as a mentor in your area of expertise (for example, marketing, computer programming, or even brainstorming!)
  • Planning and holding fundraisers
  • Leading teambuilding activities at meetings
  • Planning field trips that the team requests
  • Providing space for the team to meet
  • Making travel arrangements for tournaments
  • Or one of the most important tasks – planning refreshments so your team never runs out of fuel!
  • Uphold the Core Values! It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of discovery with the kids. Just remember that kids on FLL teams make all the decisions and do the work themselves – that is how they learn. Channel your energy into encouraging the team and cheering them on. Judges will note everyone’s behavior at tournaments. FLL expects coaches, mentors, parents, and other family members to model good behavior and Gracious Professionalism just like the team members.
  • TeamUp! If you want to get your child involved in a FIRST program, but aren’t sure how to begin, our TeamUp system can help. Connect with other parents and coaches in your area to start your own team
  • Speak Up!  Ask questions, share ideas, and provide support to other teams and parents through FIRST’s forums.

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Images courtesy of Thinkstock