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What is FLL Robotics, why is it great for kids, and how does it help build well-rounded skills?

FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a robotics community that prepares young people for the future. The FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) introduces various hands-on events and competitions to inspire and challenge kids (4 – 16*) to grow their critical thinking, research, design, and coding skills. While most people associate FLL Robotics with developing logical and technical skills, which are essential in this digital age, it is also about learning soft skills. It provides opportunities for kids to work in teams, build design skills, research innovative topics, and communicate their ideas to others in the group and outside the team.

The FLL Lego League consists of three divisions:

  1. FLL Discover is for kids between 4 and 6 years old

  2. FLL Explore is for kids between 6 and 10 years old

  3. FLL Challenge is for kids between 9 and 14 years old

In this blog, I will cover the FLL Challenge division, where kids work in teams, as it is the most sought-after and misunderstood.

The Robot Design:

The Robot consists of a centralized intelligent hub, sensors, and various LEGO® pieces. You can design and build a robot in infinite possible ways, but very few are structurally stable, functionally efficient, and competent enough to complete tasks autonomously in a Robot Game. Therefore, the design process consists of experimentation and iterations, where kids design and continuously improve the structure and complementary attachments under the guidance of an experienced coach.

The Robot Game

Coding a robot involves creating intelligent programs in Scratch (a programming language), accessing data from various sensors, reacting to their feedback, evading multiple obstacles, and effectively accomplishing various tasks autonomously (without any remote) on a table surface (~8ft by 4ft) in a controlled environment (Robot Game). While it is easy to code the Robot to do simple things, getting the Robot to perform various tasks in a Robot Game accurately and consistently requires expert guidance, learning, and practicing over months.

Scoring high in a Robot Game:

Murphy's law, "anything that can go wrong will go wrong," unfolds during all robot game matches. Smallish deviations in positioning, general ambient lighting, battery power, sensor reading, etc., will make the robot veer off and miss its tasks. If not accounted for in coding, minor errors and robot drift will manifest as significant issues, making you mismanage the missions. So, scoring high in a Robot Game requires creative expert guidance on creative design skills, advanced coding tactics, and iterations of improvements.

Innovation Project

Every season, the FLL Challenge division introduces a new theme for the competition event. All teams participating in the event must identify a problem related to the central theme, research it, design a solution for the problem, implement a high-impact solution (model, prototype, or drawing), and communicate its value.

While the parts above of the FLL Challenge are fantastic individually, what takes FLL Challenge to a superior status is the FIRST® Core Values.

Core Values:

All teams must execute all the activities, including Robot Design, Robot Game, and the innovation project, per the Core Values. These values represent the "How" part of accomplishing various tasks. In essence, the FLL challenge is all about these core values:

Teamwork: We are stronger when we work together.

Inclusion: We respect each other and embrace our differences

Impact: We apply what we learn to improve our world.

Fun: We enjoy and celebrate what we do!

Discovery: We explore new skills and ideas

Innovation: We use creativity and persistence to solve problems.

Excellence in any activity is tied back to excellence in Core Values. That's what makes the FLL Challenge an inspiring and worthwhile program to pursue

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