Starting an FLL Team

Do you have a child (age 9-14) who might enjoy robotics? If so FIRST LEGO League might be for you!  If you can’t find a team in your area to join, I suggest that you start your own team.   You can do it!  :)  By starting a team you are giving the kids on your team an opportunity to learn robotics, engineering, problem solving, teamwork, and more.  From what I’ve found, that’s all they need is the opportunity.  If you give them the opportunity, they can do the rest.

What do you have to do to start a team?
1. Find a few kids who are interested in learning about Science, Technology, etc.  not just robots.  There is a research project and skit/presentation in addition to building and programming a robot.  
2. Register your team through the FLL website.  Team registration costs around $225.  When you do this you will get your team number and a Coaches Handbook will be mailed to you.
3.  When you register, purchase a Field Kit (around $70). This is REQUIRED as it is what goes on the FLL Table. It consists of a vinyl mat, lots of Lego Pieces and a disk with building instructions.  This will arrive in mid August.
4.  Purchase a robot kit.  You can do this when you register.  It costs around $420.  This will include a FLL Team license of the software used for programming the robot.  If you already have a LEGO Mindstorms NXT then you can use what you have.
5. Find a place to meet and store your supplies.
6. Build a 4′ x 8′ table to hold the mat and field models.  Instructions are on the FLL website. (Cost around $75).
7. In the beginning of September look for the Challenge to be released.  Read this document several times to get familiar with the Challenge and the rules.
8.  Find out when registration opens for regional tournaments in your area.  In Virginia, tournament registration is in October, the regional tournaments are in November, and the state tournament is in December.  These dates vary by state, so look for the dates for your area.  In Virgina, the cost for regional tournaments is $50 and the state tournament is $100.  The state tournament is a 2 day event, so may include some travel expenses if it is far from where you live.
9.  Show up on tournament day prepared for the various activities.

Where do I get information about coaching a team?
1.Read the Coaches Handbook.  It has great information. 
2. Read the Coaches Promise – (in the handbook). 
3. Join/Read the online Forums.  You can search for answers or post a question. Here’s a link to the FLL Forum
4. Buy and read books written by other teams. (see blog for our recommendations)
5. Visit websites of other teams.
6. Attend a Coaches Workshop in your area.

How do I learn how to build and program a robot?
1. Mostly by trial and error.  :)
2. Begin by building robots from building instructions and looking at programs others have written.  Look at
3. Before building a robot, create a test bed. Write programs and test them to see what happens. (I hope to put some examples on this blog soon, so check back later.
4. Have your own robot so you can experiment on your own. 
5. Read the help files that come with the NXTG software.  (They aren’t that easy to follow, but can still be helpful). 
6. If you have the Educational version of the NXTG Software (vs. the retail version – this depends on where you purchased it).  Look through the tutorials (RobotEducator).  
7.  The Ortop NXTG Tutorial is a little dry, but has good information. 
8. Read the NXTStep Blog for inspiration.
9. Just start doing it and learn from your mistakes.  :)   Ask for help when you need it.

Finally, my best advice is to just do it.  This is something that you learn by doing.  The sooner you jump in and start the better.  It is important to model a can do attitude,  how to find answers, and how to solve problems.  This learning experience is different than classroom learning and more of a guided discovery process.  This is about learning engineering…and as I tell my students:  Engineers do things no one has ever done before! 


Posted in FLL, NXT, Starting a team, Tutorial