General Information about FIRST LEGO League
FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a team-based activity that works with the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics kit to build and program an autonomous robot, tied to a real world theme that includes a research project and presentation. Each year, a new challenge is released and the challenge details are announced by the FIRST organization in late August. In addition, teams are expected to demonstrate and embrace a strong set of Core Values.
Important information about Nor Cal FLL, tournaments and registration deadlines are sent out to the NorCalFLL-Announce googlegroup and not to individual coaches. Learn more about where information for local Northern California teams gets published. Every FLL interested person is welcome and is encouraged to join the NorCalFLL-googlegroup list.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in New Hampshire and was founded in 1989. FIRST runs several programs beyond FLL including: FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition), FLLJr (FIRST LEGO League Junior) and FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge).
FIRST LEGO League has teams in every US state and the District of Columbia. In addition, there are teams from over 80 countries. All teams work on the same theme-based challenge.
The Northern California FIRST LEGO League partner is Playing At Learning, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in the city of Fremont with a FIRST-oriented makerspace and classrooms in San Jose (The Play Space). Playing At Learning is an independent nonprofit and does not receive funding from FIRST. After 2 years of coaching FIRST LEGO League teams, Mark Edelman and Jill Wilker were inspired to found Playing At Learning in May 2004, after direct experience with seeing the amazing impact that this program has on our youth.
We believe that each and every FLL participant is a winner when sportsmanship, cooperation, collaboration, and risk-taking are valued as part of the FLL problem solving experience. The benefits of this program occur when kids feel a sense of accomplishment from knowing that their FLL efforts come 100% from their own minds and hands. This feeling of accomplishment and empowerment is what FLL is all about.
It is important to note that the FLL team registration closes when the maximum team capacity is reached or on September 30th, whichever is earlier! This sometimes happens as early as the middle of September, so early registration is recommended. Overall Season Timeline
Getting a Team Started
Playing At Learning program staff is available to answer questions and support coaches/teams interested in FLL. However, we are not in a position to FIND team members or coaches for interested participants. If you are interested in getting involved, we encourage you to be a coach and then to plan an informational meeting for prospective team members, parents, and recruit additional coaches.
All teams compete in the same “division” across the 9 to 14 year old age range defined by FIRST for this program.
Teams participate in different activities at a tournament:
- Robot Game Performance – Robots have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete missions on a 4′ x 8′ playing field. Teams earn points based on the robots performance in each of these missions. At a qualifier, each team will have an unscored practice match and 3 scored official matches.
- Robot Design Judging – Team members interact with judges to explain robot design and programming approaches. Judges ask questions to determine team member roles and their individual understanding of the technical process.
- Project Judging – A presentation topic is announced that ties to the Challenge theme. Teams perform research and prepare a presentation to present creatively in front of a team of judges. Judges ask a variety of questions to determine their understanding of the research topic.
- Core Values Judging – Teams are also judged on their FLL Core Values including teamwork skills and interactions. Communication, respect, responsibility, and problem solving skills are part of this competition.
Registration for the program involves a couple of steps.
STEP 1: The first step involves national team registration with FIRST. Completion of this registration step and payment of the required fees gives a team access to the Challenge and Challenge Kit (mission models and field mat). A LEGO Mindstorms Robot kit, and extra supplies for team participation may also be purchased at the same time or you may purchase these items elsewhere. Shipment of the challenge kit will begin in early August and will only be sent after two coaches have completed their profile, passed their backgroud screening (managed by Verified Volunteers) and payment is received. IMPORTANT : We have seen a problem at some schools where an invoice was not paid timely and the materials were received very late – make sure that you stay on top of this and don’t wait until late September to resolve!
STEP 2: The second step in the registration process involves the completion of tournament “prerequisites”. These are required forms and payment for NorCal FLL to participate in a local tournament. The exact process for 2016 is being tweaked but generally will require payment, and a completed team info form (via jotform) which will ask for information about the team and include uploading the FIRST Team Roster.
STEP 3: The final step involves registration for the Northern California qualifier tournament itself. We work hard to help make sure that all Northern California teams have a tournament to attend. Details on the tournaments will be available usually starting in August/September on the norcalfll.org website.
Fees cover national and regional registration and program operations. Basic expenses to start a brand new rookie team averages ~$1200. (2016 Cost Breakdown) Fees may vary for returning teams depending on what new or replacement supplies are needed. Teams will need access to a computer or laptop to program the robot. Some teams add fees to cover snacks, t-shirts, etc. The team would appreciate having one computer that can be used throughout the season instead of having to manage moving programs and their word across computers.
The team will need access to the annual Challenge kit which consists of a plasticized rollout mat plus LEGO elements for a specific year’s robot game. The mat and LEGO elements are placed on a FLL Challenge Table. You will need to either build or have built a high quality Challenge Table which normally sits on a pair of sawhorses (we strongly recommend and use the metal folding sawhorses over the plastic folding ones). We don’t recommend putting the Challenge Table on top of a table or on the floor.
Important things to note about the FLL Challenge Table: imperfections in the surface WILL affect the robot’s performance. Imperfections are things like using low quality plywood (we use and recommend furniture grade plywood), cutting the plywood surface (allows to be more transportable but will affect the robot due to a “seam”), not adding stabilizers like the 2×3 ribs under the challenge table or not placing the challenge table on a solid surface which causes it to flex/bend, etc. Painting the side walls could provide some minor difference for using the walls for navigation help but could be a major problem if the team wants to use a color sensor to sense the black color of the walls.
Generally, you will need to change batteries several times during the FLL season unless you have the rechargeable batthery pack. The controller takes six AA batteries. The NXT and EV3 robotic kit both have an optional rechargeable battery that can be ordered and is well worth it – if you order the FLL Robotics kit bundle from the FIRST registration site, the rechargeable battery and charger is included!
Replacement robot parts are needed from time to time. Playing At Learning has some replacement parts for Northern California teams – contact us if you need help, otherwise, we have had luck using www.bricklink.com.
Playing At Learning is a big advocate of building community – in that spirit, we encourage teams to work with each other [what FIRST calls: co-opetition (co-operative competition)]. We have a locally hosted, dedicated community site just for sharing among Northern California FLL coaches, volunteers and other supporters at social.norcalfll.org
Every event needs help to make a successful event – everyone has something that they can contribute. The needs range from organization and planning to helping to recruit volunteers, get food donations to feed volunteers to folding tournament programs to helping to raise needed cash donations. Every bit helps the community. Volunteer
Finally, outreach is a very big part of community building and we encourage every FLL parent, team member, mentor, volunteer and coach to help spread the message of the impact that FLL has had on them and the youth. If you have an offer of help, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Once the 2 coaches are in place and screened on the FIRST site, a follow up informational meeting for parents and team participants should be held by the coach. This meeting should generally cover team member selection, registration information, required forms, participation fees, practice schedules and locations, training dates, tournament information, and team operations.
This meeting will help each participant decide if this is the right program and team for them. Note it is very helpful to make sure that the all team members have a similar outlook and view of the time, energy, seriousness and interest to put into the team. The amount of time spent on FLL can vary greatly – based on the team dynamics and coach – and it is important to understand the level of commitment needed.
Teams generally meet an average of two times per week, for 1 ½ – 2 hours at each meeting. Additional practice times are often added as teams get closer to the tournament portion of the season. Teams usually begin practicing as soon as they form or at least once the new school year begins. Each team approaches the practice schedule differently based on participant and location availability.
It is also a very good idea for the team members to agree on their season goals – what do they want to learn and what do they want to accomplish. We would strongly discourage using advancement or winning an award as the goal – NorCal FLL is a very large and competitive program and it may be frustrating or disheartening if a team views success so narrowly.
In Northern California, we have a qualifying system. This means that teams from Northern California must first qualify at tournament to participate in a Championship. In addition, each qualifier is assigned into one of 4 districts: Silicon Valley, Peninsula, East Bay and Capital. More information for 2016 districts is coming.
In general, all first level qualifier tournaments take place in November. Tournaments take place normally on Saturdays or Sundays. These competitions generally start at 8am with an opening ceremony and then end with closing award ceremony by 6pm. The top teams (top in all areas) may receive an invitation to advance to the next round tournament. (Learn more about Advancement) All advancement tournament invitations are finally at the discretion of the tournament director – particularly in cases where poor Core Values is demonstrated.
The exact qualifier tournament locations and dates are typically announced in the August/September timeframe.