Introduction: FIRST Teams Guide to Effective Outreach
A really big part of the FIRST experience for teams is Outreach: Speaking to students, school groups, at science and maker festivals, and at conventions and conferences about STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Outreach serves several purposes:
- It helps outreach teams hone speaking and interview skills.
- It helps reinforce engineering and related academic skills development by virtue of sharing and teaching others.
- It helps students involved in outreach connect with potential academic and career leads.
- It helps recruit mentors, sponsors and supporters for participating teams and FIRST in general.
- It helps build more teams.
- It helps raise awareness and support of FIRST programs.
- It's an essential part of awards consideration during competition seasons.
In Florida, teams can earn Blue Ribbon Showcase recognition for doing high quality outreach, a useful designation both for teams and for those reaching out to them for demonstrations and exhibits at events. Blue Ribbon Showcase teams in Florida are those teams who have participated in a minimum of three FIRST organized outreach events in their state, and three of their own, and who have demonstrated Gracious Professionalism at all times in the course of their outreach efforts. Anyone working with a Blue Ribbon Showcase team in Florida knows they're working with a stellar team of students.
The recipe for being a Blue Ribbon Showcase team is pretty straightforward, and sets forth a good set of guidelines for teams called to provide outreach wherever they live, for any type of event or program.
FIRST is a STEM education program that uses robot challenges to build science and technology skills and interests for youth ages 6 to 18, in a character driven program designed to inspire self-confidence, leadership, and life skills . With support from a bunch of generous Fortune 500 corporations, educational and professional institutions, foundations, and individuals, FIRST provides more than $22 million in college scholarships to high school kids in the program, and serves over 400,000 students in 80 countries. The suite of programs includes FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for Grades 4-8; and Junior FIRST® LEGO®League (Jr.FLL®) for Grades K-3. Visit USFIRST.org for more information nationally.
- How to Start a FIRST Team
- Community Networking for FIRST Teams
- Competition Readiness for FIRST Teams
- FIRST Mentoring: Volunteering with Impact
- Hosting a FIRST Meet & Greet
- How to #MakeItLoud for FIRST
Step 1: What You'll Need
To provide good outreach, you'll need:
- A ready and willing team
- A couple of mentors/coaches
- A good ready-to-go outreach kit
- An elevator speech
- A robot
- An event - ask your local FIRST organizers for recommendations, or sign up to participate in local science and maker festivals, engineering conferences and other potentially relevant events
Step 2: FIRST Outreach Kit
Your FIRST Outreach Kit can include any combination of the following, dictated by the size of your exhibit space and the type of event at which you'll be providing outreach. The items with an asterisk are pretty important, though, and you should have them at each outreach event whenever possible:
- *Robot or display model (for Jr. FLL)
- *Everything you need to run your robot - batteries (bring extras), controllers, laptop,
- *Tools - not your whole tool set, but enough for basic repairs at an event
- *Display Board or Team Scrapbook
- Engineering notebook
- Collection of CAD or other design drawings
- An extra laptop or monitor for showing team video, programming, CAD drawings, etc.( a tablet device is nice, too, for showing programming or design during one on one conversations with people)
- *Team Information - flyers, business cards, brochures about your team - everyone you speak with is a potential supporter
- A table cover - it just makes your exhibit space look nicer
- *FIRST informational materials, if the event organizer isn't providing any - speak to your local program Affiliate Partners or Regional Directors for more information. You can also find some Marketing Materials on the US FIRST website.
And make sure you bring a camera to document your outreach for awards recognition during competition season.
Step 3: FIRST Outreach Protocols
We have a set of five basic protocols for our Florida outreach teams that we ask all participating teams to follow:
- Gracious Professional conduct at all times
- Students do the outreach -
- Understand your FIRST program
- Be informed about the event at which you’re exhibiting
- Have Fun!
We'll look at each a little more closely in the steps that follow.
Step 4: Gracious Professional Conduct at All Times
Everyone (adults & students) at an event must be dressed appropriately, business casual with team shirts, and long pants, unless otherwise advised. Students must be attentive to guests, and chaperons must be attentive to kids - no texting, non-FIRST game playing (gaming, horseplay, etc) while on your shift at your FIRST booth.
At outreach events, teams are representing - their team, their school or youth group, and FIRST. Professional conduct is especially important at outreach events that are done at conferences and conventions, where business people and other professionals are in attendance.
Step 5: Students Do the Outreach
At outreach events, we're showcasing how capable our students are and they need every opportunity to become capable of explaining what they do and how they do it. Outreach events are great practice!
So coaches and mentors should guide newbies as needed, and of course step in if an outreach event is packed with guests, but let students take the lead whenever possible.
Step 6: Understand Your FIRST Program
Team members should have an "elevator speech" explanation of FIRST that's easy for kids to share. While it's good to know that the acronym stands for the U.S. Foundation for Recognition of Science and Technology, saying something like "FIRST teaches science and engineering through robot competitions" is more likely to catch people's interest and encourage them to stop and learn more.
Students and adults should also always introduce FIRST programs by their full name before using the acronyms. So when speaking about your FTC team, start out with, "We're a FIRST Tech Challenge team," and repeat the full program title a couple of times during the course of conversation before using the shorthand reference.
You can learn more about the history of FIRST here: http://www.usfirst.org/aboutus/first-history
and find brief descriptions of each program level here: http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms
Step 7: Be Informed About Your Outreach Event
Coaches and mentors, make sure your team knows something about the event they'll be exhibiting or providing demos at, and be able to relate FIRST involvement to the business or education community involved in the event. If you're at a gaming conference, then be able to talk about how your team uses simulations. If you're at engineering conference, then be able to address your engineering experiences.
Most conferences and conventions will be happy to show students around, too, if you ask. The more informed team members are about the event they're at, the more eager professionals at the conference will be to talk to them and share what they do, as well.
Step 8: Have Fun!
The more fun your team has sharing what they love about FIRST, the more fun everyone at an event will have speaking to team members, and the more interested they'll be in getting involved, supporting teams and giving students involved with FIRST opportunities for their future.