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Starting A FIRST Team

 

FIRST teams can help your students become interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), boosts social skills, and is impressive on a resume. 

According to a study from FIRST, students that participated become 80% more interested in their education, two times as likely to go to college for science or engineering, and 90% more interested in going to college in general. Important skills such as time management, conflict resolution,  and problem-solving each by 90%.

 

A full explanation of how to start a FIRST robotics team can be a lot to take in, so here is our condensed version.

Choosing The Right Program

There are four different FIRST programs for varying grade levels.

The FIRST LEGO League Jr. for grades K-4. It is the youngest level. Teams are given a real-world scientific problem to learn about. They then create a model and a poster to show what they've learned. 

The teams build their model out of LEGO WeDo 2.0 sets and other LEGO pieces. Teams then show off their findings at expos with other teams. The cost is about $300* for registration, parts, and event participation. Registration opens, and the challenge is released on August 1st. Events take place from October to June.

The next step up is the FIRST LEGO League for grades 4-8. Teams design, build and program a LEGO Mindstorm-based robot to compete in a game on a table top. Teams also research and develop a solution to a problem related to the game theme. Teams show their findings and compete at tournaments. The first-year cost is about $900* for registration, robot, and challenge set. In following years, the Mindstorm can be reused--lowering the cost. The season starts on August 1st, and tournament season is from November to March. Registration opens in early May and closes in late September.

Next is the FIRST Tech Challenge for grades 7 to 12. Teams design, build, and program a robot to compete in a floor game. Teams are organized in alliances of two in games at tournaments. The average first-year cost is $2,500*, but the robot kit of parts is reusable, which reduces the cost for following years. The season starts in September, and qualifiers start in October.

Lastly is the FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9 to 12. Teams design, build and program a robot to compete in a field game. Teams are then organized in alliances of three in games at regionals. The average cost is $5,000 - $6,000*. The season starts in January and regionals start in March.


 

*Costs vary depending on travel, shirts, food, and other optional items

**Costs can be reduced by community sponsors that help fund your efforts or fundraising

Forming Your Team

Each program has different rules about teams. 

The FIRST FLL Jr. teams are made of 2 - 6 students and need at least 2 adult coaches. Coaches are allowed to be on multiple teams so if there are enough students, and you can have multiple teams.

The FIRST FLL teams are made up of 2 - 10 students and at least 2 adult coaches. 

The FIRST Tech Challenge teams are made of 3 - 15 students and at least 2 mentors.

The FIRST Robotics Competition teams are made up of at least 10 students and 2 mentors.

Remember, no previous knowledge/skills are required. The point of FIRST teams is to learn new skills and build on old ones.

Try It Out

Once you have the right program, you can just test the waters. Find a local team or someone who has the right equipment so that you can get familiar with what you're going to use. Once familiar, you can get your own equipment and get even more familiar with it.

Materials are different for each program. FLL Jr. teams require standard LEGOs, a base, and an inspiration set. FLL teams require a LEGO Mindstorm set, a challenge table, mat, and set. FTC teams need either a tetrix or matrix kit, basic tools, a control & communication set, and a electronics modules & sensors kit. FRC teams need much more advanced tools, such as a mill or bandsaw, and robot parts are usually puchased based on each year. 

Once you have your own materials, you can try out the game from the previous year. Make your own solution to the game problem as if you were going to the competitions.

Registering Your Team

You can register your team and find more information on the official FIRST website. Students need to register as well in STIMS.

 

Good Luck and Happy Robotting!