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When we're not tinkering, or designing makerspaces for libraries, we're working withFIRSTteams. Avid fans and supporters, we've been involved with FIRST for nearly 10 years, from helping provide snacks at our son's FIRST LEGO League team when he was 12 to foundingFIRST Tech Challenge Team Duct Tape in our garage 8 years ago, to volunteering as event and program organizers, and mentoring teams today.

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.

Key to FIRST program success is a concept called "Gracious Professionalism". As defined by Dr. Woody Flowers, who developed the idea, “It is how we should strive to act, whether we are being watched or not, and in a way that would make those we admire most proud. Gracious Professionalism demands that we treat others with kindness and respect, communicate with one another clearly and honestly, and resolve conflicts and misunderstandings immediately.” It's essentially Instructables' "Be Nice" policy. What's not to love here?!

Almost everyone agrees FIRST is an awesome youth program, but because it involves robots and tools and funky games and meetings and such, people who would be great at working with kids in this program either don't think they actually would be, or feel it's too daunting to take on.

So Eureka Factory is going to help out here, because we really believe in this program and because everyone we know who has ever worked with FIRST (including us!) feels the experience is as amazingly rewarding for them as it is for the kids they help out. Starting with this 'ible, we'll be running a series of FIRST How-Tos over the summer, that we hope will help new coaches, mentors and teams get a good start, and become successful and sustainable teams. We know there are a few FIRST teams on Instructables, and we hope they'll join in here with some of their how-to's, too!

Now let's get started on building a team!

See also:

And check out the new FIRST Collection we started here: https://www.instructables.com/id/FIRST-Robotics or join the FIRST Group on Instructables.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

The essentials are:

  • Knowledge about FIRST - This is the most useful page at the FIRST website for learning about all four programs:http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms The accompanying chart here gives a succinct view of the different programs - there's four - and the age/grade ranges they serve.
  • Kids - If you've already got a kid, and you think she or he would be interested in a playing with robots, then that part is squared away.
  • Some willing adults - Willing adults can be the usual suspects - parents - and some unexpected ones: local business folks, engineers, tech folks, makerspace denizens. Although tech folks are great, mentors and coaches don't have to be "techies" - a common misconception that sometimes discourages participation. The Non-Engineering Mentor Organization (NEMO) has some terrific resources to help in that area.
  • Space -For almost all the programs, your run of the mill garage will work for meeting and work space, but makerspaces are also great places for hosting team meetings, and many libraries are now open to providing team meeting space. If you have an accommodating school, that's a plus.
  • Funding -Funding, depending on the program, can be covered out of pocket, by team fees, through local sponsorships and donors, or a number of available FIRST grants.

Step 2: Get Organized

It might seem that the next step would be to register your team, but after having founded and run a team (FTC Team Duct Tape) and mentored others for the last 8 years, our recommendation is to get organized first. Gather interested adults and students, make sure everyone is on board, and understands the FIRST program, and then put together some foundational docs so that everyone is on the same page from the start. (sample docs are courtesy of Team Duct Tape)

Set expectations early and clearly, and codify with ateam handbook and related documents that outline meeting schedules, student and adult roles and responsibilities, and rules of conduct. Having a solid and well documented team infrastructure makes it easier to manage a team and ensure its sustainability over the long term.

Recommended documents include:

Parent Info Sheet – with expected meeting dates and times, contact information, conduct requirements (of students and parents), Youth Protection Policy information, and competition schedule, and travel expectations • Parent/Student/Coach agreement – outlining expectations of each

Team Meeting Info Sheet – a student version of the parent info sheet

Code of ConductFIRST Values focused, emphasizing “Gracious Professionalism”, GPA requirements or recommendations, library specific requirements, and the consequences of inappropriate conduct.

That might seem like overkill, but taking the time to have some solid infrastructure and committed support will pave the way for an enjoyable team experience for everyone.

Step 3: Host a Team Orientation Meeting

Whatever type team you decide to organize, host a Team Orientation meeting with mandatory parent attendance. At this meeting:

  • Review what FIRST is, and specifically the program for your group
  • Review team documents together and have students and guardians sign team agreements together
  • Consider team name and theme
  • Consider team roles, although it may take a couple of meetings to settle into those . A FIRST team is like a small company - there's plenty for all types of interest, from web design for the team website, to costuming for the team look, business development for fundraising and financial planning and more.
  • Consider meeting days and times: Decide on a specific day and time for team meetings and then ensure everyone has the team meeting and season schedule and that they can commit to the time needed to be have a fun season
  • Play a team building game
  • Eat, drink and be merry!

Step 4: Register Your Team

Ok, NOW you can register your team!

Once you know you've got sufficient interest and support from youth and adults, a meeting space, and a decent grasp on the program of your choice, hie thee over to USFIRST.org, and select the program for which you want to register a team.

For Jr. FLL and FLL, it's a fairly straightforward process.For FTC and FRC, the high school level programs, there's a few extra steps, but nothing an Instructables fan can't handle. When you hover over the "Register" tab in the left hand menu bar for FTC or FRC, don't click on the drop downs that appear but just click on the Register option itself, and then follow the directions on that page.

Even if you don't have funding yet, register the team as soon as you're able (if registration is open for the season), to be eligible for rookie and other team grants that may be made available to registered teams. Registration must be paid prior to ordering robot kits or participating in any competition, but you've usually got till just before season kick offs to do that. All listed program volunteers have to abide byFIRST Youth Protection Policy(YPP) requirements, although documentation of existing library staff screening typically satisfies YPP requirements.

Step 5: Business Planning

Like any quality youth sport or activity, running a FIRST team costs money, particularly the high school level FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition programs. Registering early ensures eligibility for a number of FIRST grants for new teams and veteran teams alike. Teams can also run their own fundraisers throughout the year, and should consider creating a sponsorship package and actively recruiting sponsors and donors.

In-kind sponsorship can be extremely valuable for the high school teams, so don't overlook donations of materials, food, team shirts and tools.

FIRST also has a number of resources on the website for Fundraising , including a Fundraising Toolkit, creating another layer of practical learning experience for teams.

Step 6: Meeting and Building

There’s no right or wrong way to host meetings, although there are some best practices, starting with the cardinal rule: Have Fun!

The best way to do that is to provide some light structure with plenty of hands-on time for all involved. Sometimes that means not having all students at every meeting. Youth with no interest in programming will become bored and restless if there’s nothing for them to do while waiting for programs to compile. Those mostly interested in programming may become frustrated by the design and build process. So it can help to break meetings up a bit during the season, holding separate programming and build meetings, and sometimes meetings just for those interested in team marketing or the FLL research project and presentation, for that program..

Meetings can be held once a week or more. FRC teams, with their short six week season, can meet daily for several hours a day. Jr. FLL teams might just meet for 30 minutes once a week. A good rule of thumb for meetings, for almost all ages is:

  • Housekeeping/Admin - 15-20 minutes – Start with a project timeline, planning backwards from the first competition date, and help team members set milestone dates. During the admin portion of each meeting, do a status check and set reasonable team goals for that day. This is the time to field most questions, concerns and ideas.
  • Build & Project time – 2-5 hours, or more, if it’s an FRC team. This is the meat of the meeting, and it can be helpful to have team members work in smaller groups of 3-5 students on different aspects of their build or projects. A team historian is also important, helping document the team season with photos and video. Having an adult on hand for each group helps keep things on track and moving forward, but it’s important that the students do the work, and adults serve primarily in an advisory or learning guide capacity. Snacks are also an important part of the Build & Project time, and a vital part of strengthening the team through the community building act of eating together. Plan to have a lot of food on hand! Robotics teams fuel their creativity and learning with voracious appetites!
  • Wrap Up – 30 min. to 40 min. – This is the time to teach responsible use of library facilities (and any facilities, really) and respect for those who will use spaces after the students. Making this a routine part of every meeting helps keep materials accounted for and spaces organized and clean.

Step 7: Encourage Community Outreach

Outreach is an important part of FIRST team involvement at every level, and part of what teams are judged on at competitions. Teams that share what they learn, learn it better, and are typically judged more highly at events. Teams can demo their robots and show off their engineering and team development prowess at Maker and Science Festivals, school and community STEM events, and the extra drive practice comes in handy at competitions!

Step 8: Be Competition Ready

The best way to prepare for a competition (for FLL, FTC & FRC - Jr. FLL is an "expo" rather than a competition) is to:

  • Read all instructions and communications from FIRST and program Partners, which provide important information throughout the season about registration, grants, scholarships, game and competition information.
  • Review updates weekly with team volunteers and with students where relevant.
  • Be intimately familiar with the game manual and game rules, and make sure that students are familiar with them as well
  • It’s very helpful to impose a “build freeze” a week before competitions, to prevent last minutes tweaks from turning into endless redesigns, which can take a perfectly functioning robot and turn it into a doorstop at a competition.
  • Create (and use!) event day check lists that cover everything from game day responsibilities for volunteers and staff, to food plans, to materials lists for batteries, chargers, spare parts, and other items.

On game day, arrive on time, set up the team area (pit), and hold an all-hands meeting before things take off. Remind students to be Gracious Professionals, to be present, and to stay till the end of the event.

Step 9: Celebrate!

Win or lose, have a party!

Make a community event of it, and showcase students and their season achievements with friends and family. Run videos of tournament matches, display student work and any trophies that may have been won, and let the students share the robot build and run their robot for guests. This is a great way to recruit new team members and volunteers for the next season, and to keep the emphasis where it belong, on the fun of the build and the game, and on the joy of the discovery process.

Go Team!

Team 313 vet. here, learned a ton in those short years. Truly a great organization.
<p>I started late this previous season in team 8816. Man, that was such a positive experience!</p>
<p>Thanks for the great comments. Love to see more FIRST teams on Instructables! We've started a FIRST Instructables collection here: https://www.instructables.com/id/FIRST-Robotics/ Let us know if you know of, or add, others!</p>
<p>Is this program kit-specific or open sourced?</p>
<p>All the programs have basic kits, to standardize drive trains, electronics , motors, etc. But from there, teams can 3D print, fabric parts, use some COTS items, use a huge variety of different materials from wood to cardboard. Each level uses different processors - so EV3 for the LEGO League group, Android phones programmed with Java for the middle &amp; high school FIRST Tech Challenge program and NI roboRIO controller for the FIRST Robotics Competition level, which can programmed in LabVIEW, Java, C++ and Python. </p>
<p>does any one have any good ideas for growing the number of team in a state? cause FTC is shrinking in NE and we don't have any FRC teams</p>
Have you talked with your Regional Director in Nebraska? Here's her contact info: Susan Lawrence - sklsumgrad@comcast.net<br><br>One of the things we're doing here is trying to raise awareness of FIRST programs through FIRST Meet &amp; Greets - connecting existing teams with area businesses for support and mentoring (next Instructable coming up!) . But the most effective way to grow teams is to get school support and that can be really hard without supportive community and school district leadership. Who do you think are your key supporters in your area in NE?<br><br>Also, please join our FIRST Group on Instructables, so we can start building our community here, and better help each other out and grow FIRST everywhere! https://www.instructables.com/group/firstgroup
<p>Thanks for the info. I'm rather intimidated by the costs (most of us here are living on shoe-string budgets) but I think it would be a great homeschooling addition. I'll have to do a little more research, especially since I'd be diving into the deep end - my boy is 16 already. </p>
I think a lot of us are living on pretty fixed incomes these days, and we homeschooled as well, so I know the challenges. There are grants for new teams though, both through FIRST and through 3rd party grantors like PTC and others. I'd recommend getting in touch with your area program directors and talking to them. They'll be happy to help you get the info you need to make decisions about the program, or find existing teams your son might be able to join. Good luck!
<p>Just posted another FIRST Instructable: Community Networking for FIRST Teams - https://www.instructables.com/id/Community-Networking-for-FIRST-Teams/</p>
Team 121 RI saying hi
I Have a Idea based on cell phone Network.... But I am not aware about latest technology available now... so Please any body contact me on +919970372161 or djsanap@yahoo.com so we can discuss more.... Thank You...
<p>Probably better to ask in the forums - https://www.instructables.com/community/, maybe under &quot;Burning Questions&quot;.</p>
<p>@Step 1: Note that there have been plenty of FIRST teams (even FRC teams!) who successfully made it through their entire first year with only a single student and a single mentor. It takes more effort per person, sure, but is no less rewarding for those involved. Even if you don't manage to get your robot working by the time your first competition rolls around, the other teams there will be more than happy to help you get it finished once you arrive!</p>
<p>Absolutely true! We remember an FLL team of 1, who did a great job. It's more fun with more team members, and more affordable, depending on the program. But sometimes you just have to get out there and do it, to inspire others to join in the fun!</p>
<p>Great Article<b>!</b></p>
Thanks for the tips. I am the lead for a rookie team in 2015-2016. The Jesubots, from Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, mo. FRC.
Great instructable, I'm glad FRC is becoming more popular, I've been on a great team for a few years now, and it's been some of the most fun and the hardest work I've ever done.
<p>Team 5064 (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) here. Only our 3rd year at Western Canada Regionals and came in 5th in the region. A great learning time with lots of hands on experience.</p><p>Let's build stuff!</p>
<p>Definitely let's build stuff! We're in the process of starting a FIRST Group on Instructables, so there are any other teams, team members, coaches or mentors here, let us know! *FIRST is in the house!!*</p>
<p>I've volunteered for FIRST in my community for the last 8 years and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in helping kids interested in science, technology, engineering, math, and even life skills in general. Outstanding organization. Really fun too!</p>
<p>Very thorough write up!! Thanks for sharing!</p>

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Bio: At the Eureka! Factory, we love making things, and thinking about things, and learning about things, and enjoy helping empower others to a curiosity driven ... More »
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