FIRST, and What It’s All About

Posted by Lori Dale On August 21, 2018 Comments Off on FIRST, and What It’s All About

Since the Gearheads are on a break until we start up again in late September, it seemed like a good time to cover some other subjects not specific to the team, but that are very much a part of our environment.  This week we are covering FIRST, our parent organization, and it's programs.   This will be familiar information to some of our readers, but for the people that it's not, we would like to bring more awareness of the organization that we are a part of.

The program that the Gearheads are a part of is known as the FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC for short.  This is the oldest program within FIRST and generally considered the "flagship" program.  It is the program that gets the most press coverage, and generally has the largest budgets and teams, though there are exceptions.  FRC is generally for High School students, though there are a few teams that have Jr. High Students.  The Gearheads are open to 8th graders, and 7th graders if they demonstrate a special motivation to be a part of the team.

However, it is not the only program that FIRST has.  There are 3 other programs.  Starting with the youngest there are also FIRST Lego League, Jr. (FLL, Jr.),  for Kindergarteners to 4th graders, FIRST Lego League (FLL), for 5th to 8th graders, and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) for 7th to 12th graders.  To the best of our knowledge, none of these other programs have teams in the St. Cloud school district, though we would love to see that change.  Also, there are teams in each program, in nearby districts.   Here is a little bit about each program (most of this is taken from the FIRST webpage

FIRST Progams


FLL, Jr 

FIRST LEGO League Jr.* is designed to introduce STEM concepts to kids ages 6 to 10 while exciting them through a brand they know and love − LEGO®.

Guided by adult coaches and FIRST LEGO League Jr. Core Values, students build models using LEGO® Education WeDo and create Show Me posters to present what they learned. The program focuses on building interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through a real-world challenge – to be solved by research, critical thinking, and imagination.

* An alliance between FIRST and the LEGO Group   

FLL, Jr. (2)

FLL, Jr. promotional materials, used by permission (previous years challenge)


Guided by two or more adult Coaches, FIRST LEGO League* teams (up to 10 members, grades 4-8**) research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS®, then compete on a table-top playing field.

It all adds up to tons of fun while they learn to apply science, technology, engineering, and math concepts (STEM), plus a big dose of imagination, to solve a problem. Along their journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, basic STEM applications, and even presentation skills, as they must present their solutions with a dash of creativity to judges. They also practice the Program’s Core Values, which emphasize discovery, teamwork and good sportsmanship.

* An alliance between FIRST and the LEGO® Group  



FLL promotion materials, used by permission (previous years challenge)


FIRST Tech Challenge teams (10+ members, grades 7-12) are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have!”

Guided by adult Coaches and Mentors, students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles (like keeping an engineering notebook), while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and can be programmed using a variety of languages, including Java. Teams also must raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach for which they can win awards. Participants have access to tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships. Each season concludes with Super-Regional Championships and an exciting FIRST Championship. (Though the Super Regionals may be dropped in 2018-19 for State competitions, the winners of which would qualify for FIRST Championships)

FTC is very similar to VEX Robotics, which is more familiar in this area.  Their robots and playing fields are of a similar size.  The main difference between the two is that FTC teams generally do a bit more of their own machining of parts than VEX teams RedNek demo

RedNek robotics FTC 724 used by permission (previous year's challenge)

While there are currently no FLL, Jr, FLL or FTC teams in the St. Cloud School District, the Gearheads would love to see that change.  If there are parents or teachers reading this who would like to start a team, we would love to help facilitate the formation of teams! Just contact us, and we will do all that we can to help!


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