In FLL, a whole judging session and award category is set aside for a team’s research project. These projects encourage kids to utilize creative problem solving to identify and solve problems that they recognize in their own lives and share their ideas with expert communities. The emphasis FLL places on the research project encourages kids to find ways to make the world better through brainstorming, research, and presenting. The FLL research project is what I owe my research and public speaking skills almost entirely to. In my experience as a student, research and speech are subjects that are required of us, but never taught to us in the memorable, real-life ways FLL teaches us through. Furthermore, it never ceases to amaze me what ingenious concepts FLL teams come up with! Unlike in most classrooms, teams are given free reign of their research and ideas--which produces some of the coolest feasible solutions I’ve ever seen!
In FLL, it’s a judged category that’s seen as something just as important as a robot run. Even though the chances of you building a robot after high school is slightly bigger than people who aren’t in FIRST, it’s still diminutive compared to the chances of using these core values in life. Core values of “what we discover is more important than what we win”, “we display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do”, and “we have fun” are important lessons that will enrich our life, and make it easier (well, as easy as it gets). Coolest thing is, you can see many teams honoring and applying these core values! Teams will cheer you on, even though they’re running their robot right across your field, and will help you rebuild your robot when you drop it. Believing and understanding that we can’t truly learn without failing and to just have fun, is way more important and meaningful than any trophy or award. These core values are really important, and FLL is one of the rare sports that pushes that.
It’s practically impossible to succeed in FLL without teamwork. A creative research presentation is dependent on working together, running the robot during rounds depend on the cooperation of the driver and assistant, and many more. Not only that, but working together with your teammates and friends is a blast! You’re constantly bouncing off each other’s ideas and energy, with crazy late night sleepovers and fun meetings. Like the old saying “two brains is better than one”, well, a team full of brains, is way way better than one-- and that really comes in handy with brainstorming sessions. Out in the world, you’re going to have to work with people anyway, so it’s good practice, and a great experience. It shows you in a real life way how to respect each other, work together, listen to each other’s ideas, and find a solution as a team. In school/work environment, and just in daily life, there’s no escaping people. Training and practicing your skills to work well with others is going to take you very far in life.
At basketball, football, and many other sports, you can see the crowd booing the other teams, or putting down the other team, but rarely will you ever see them lift the opposing team up. Not FLL. FLL is not only about the robots and mechanics, but also about making friends and connections. No matter what happens, and who goes home with a trophy, you can still cheer on other teams, no matter the score. Teams are always happy to lend advice or spare parts, and will definitely share their positive energy! FLL is also the most diverse (especially at World Championships) with the most teams and most countries participating. Trying to succeed and pushing yourself is a good thing, but the experience is an awesome thing. I have created many lasting friendships--shoutout to my robotics buddy who’s 7,736 miles away, Jessica Ricci Angeles Lapena, of the Philippines FLL team Blue Oceans 10. We met at the World Championships, and have been talking/texting constantly since….even though 78% of our conversation is about robotics. Thanks to the Greek and New York team for playing hand games, the Spain team for dancing, the China team for sharing gummy worms, the Israeli team for the cool cat headband, the Aussies for saying hi to our friend back home, the South African team for the advice, and all the other teams for their positive energy and making our experience absolutely unforgettable! It's all about sharing the experience with not only your supportive teammates and “entourage,” but other teams and people who share your passion, and will cheer you on just as loud (or louder) than you cheer for them. FLL is a really friendly crowd, full of people willing to join your flash mob right before awards (MN State 2015), no matter how well their day went.
EVERYONE CAN DO EVERYTHING
At the same time FLL is intensely competitive, it is also pretty easy to understand and jump headfirst into. Because it is usually the first FIRST robotics program young kids will be exposed to, it is designed for kids to be able learn. The programming language, robot building, and research project can be taken to dramatic and complex extremes by experienced and invested teams, but can also be simplified for new members. The simplicity of learning FLL allows for generalization of all team members on a team. Granted, everyone has their preference of work they like to do, but members can easily be exposed to each part of the program and learn the basics of each part. By exposing each team member to every part of the program, FLL makes sure each member is developing the full range of skills FLL offers.
I have always been jealous of elementary/middle schools that have integrated STEM education curriculum. It’s never a luxury I’ve had in my community, but I have heard mythical tales of FLL programming use in the classroom. One of the best things about FLL is the ease at which it can be spread. FLL is like the best contagious disease ever. (Or as I extemporaneously remarked to a FLL MN State Programming Judge in my last year of competition, “EV3 is like the gateway drug of programming.”) The idea is the same: FLL is a great way to learn concepts of mechanical design, programming, and non-technical skills like research and public speaking that will carry on through your whole life. Whether in a competitive format, or in a school-day setting, FLL can teach these skills. NXT and EV3 are also used in schools to teach these skills through STEM curriculum! All around the world, schools are embracing STEM education for younger ages, some of which can be achieved with help of FLL-based curriculum. Even in a competitive format, FLL is meant to be easily accessible. Through school run teams or home based teams, FLL is simple enough that anyone can coach and anyone can join.
This blog was written by FLL Alum/Mentors Selina Woo & Anna Marie Mitchell. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.