Here are a few ideas for preparing kids to participate in the FIRST LEGO League competition. These are not required for FLL, but would help to prepare kids and perhaps enable them to get more out of the FLL experience.
1. Gain experience building with LEGO Technic parts. Buy some LEGO Technic kits. Start with just having fun getting familiar with the pieces. Then have kids learn how the parts connect by following building instructions. After some experience following building instructions, kids can modify a design or create their own.
2. Gain experience with the NXT Mindstorms Kit. By having your own NXT Mindstorms kit, kids can begin to get familiar with the parts and how it works. Build models following building instructions. You can find building instructions in books, online, and some come with the kit. Inspiration can come from the NXTstep blog and http://www.nxtprograms.com/. To find others just Google NXT Building Instructions. Building experience is helpful.
3. Get familiar with the NXTG software that comes with the kit. If you buy the Education version (There are two versions to the NXT Kit… The one sold on the retail market, and the other to the schools.) use the Robot Educator to learn to program. Find programs in books or on the web to try and then modify. Study programs created by others to try to figure out how they work.
4. Learn to program using other languages. My kids started out with QBASIC. They would type in programs and run them and then modify the programs to their liking. Our web site’s programming page provides information on languages kids can learn. There is enough similarity between them that learning any language will be beneficial. Have your kids work through tutorials.
5. Encourage a trial and error approach when learning how to use computer applications, such as NXTG. Click and see what happens. Explore the options. (I don’t recommend this approach while surfing the web however…)
6. Model the behavior, approach, and attitude you want to see in your kids. Model how to look for the answers when you have a question or a problem. Be optimistic. Be persistent. Read help files. Refer to books on the topic. Ask someone for help. Avoid negative talk, such as “I can’t do that”, instead say “Let’s try to figure this out together.” Before long they’ll be helping you and answering your questions!
7. Spend the money! It is expensive, but think of it as an investment. The money you invest in your child’s education today will allow them to produce more income tomorrow. Spending the money communicates to your child that it is important to learn technology. Kids can learn this now. There is no need to wait. Having skills provide choices. You don’t have to use them if you don’t need to, but if you have them if you do. Having skills creates confidence. Meaningful work is important for kids. Spend the money.
8. Go to a competition to see it in action the year before you join a team. Seeing the event will help kids understand what it is they are working towards. Seeing all the different robots will inspire the kids to get started working on their own robot.
9. Stay on a team more than one year. Each year adds new knowledge and experience. The longer you do it the better you get. The better you get, the more you enjoy it.
10. We have great resources on our website. Be sure to check them out!
FIRST LEGO League is a great learning experience. For us, it has been excellent preparation for other robotics competitions. So what are you waiting for!?! Get started today!