What’s New In FIRST?

Posted by Lori Dale On September 27, 2020 Comments Off on What’s New In FIRST?

We are about to begin the third official week of school in District 742, and plans for our district and others around the state and country are constantly evolving. It seems like a good time to update everyone about what is going on in FIRST Robotics.

Let’s start with the program that the Gearheads are a part of, the FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC. Since most of you are familiar with FRC I will not go into details about what the FRC is and merely outline the changes for this year. Let’s start with the non-change. Due to the abrupt end of last season, the decision was made to continue with the theme from last year, “Infinite Recharge”. As you can imagine, it has acquired the nickname of “Still Charging”. The situation in the FRC is very much in flux right now, but tentative plans for this year were released a few days ago.

The primary news is there will be no live events unless things change dramatically. The current plan is for virtual events where teams can compete in skills challenges and showcase their robot. There will also be two new opportunities for teams to develop skills and be “Game Changers” (the theme for the year in all of FIRST) The first of these challenges is a game design competition: This is what FIRST says about the game design challenge: ” The Game Design Challenge will allow registered teams to design their own FIRST Robotics Competition game using real-world, virtual, or hybrid design elements, and compete for judged awards. Winning concepts will be considered for use in future official games.”

The second new opportunity is one that will be familiar with anyone who has been involved in the FLL (Challenge), the Innovation Challenge. FLL teams have had this as a part of their season for many years, and it will now be a part of the FRC. This is what FIRST says about the Innovation Challenge: “In the Innovation Challenge presented by Qualcomm, registered teams will identify a real-world problem related to this season’s theme, FIRST® GAME CHANGERSSM powered by Star Wars: Force for Change, design a solution, build a business model, and deliver a pitch to compete with other FIRST Robotics Competition teams for judged awards. This new challenge will have an advancement track, culminating in the Global Innovation Awards, a multi-day experience where students showcase their innovations, participate in workshops and receive mentorship from experts, and compete for awards.”

The next program is the FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC, as it’s more commonly known. FTC is for students in 7-12th grades. It is similar in size of robot and playing field to VEX robotics but parts are a little more robust and expensive, and programming is a little more complex. Teams in FTC are also allowed to custom manufacture their own parts. The nearest teams are in Becker. This year’s theme is “Ultimate Goal” For more about that game check YouTube for numerous related videos. This year FTC competitions are all being held remotely.

So to hit the high spots for students in Elementary School FIRST now has 3 divisions of FIRST LEGO League.

Let’s start with the FLL Challenge, this is for students in 4th-8th grade. I currently am the administrative mentor for 2 teams at St. Cloud Christian. These teams are coached by David Dale and Cody Pratt. Students in FLL Explore use LEGO parts to build and program roughly palm-sized robots to meet their choice of 16 “Missions”. There is also an Innovation Challenge where teams create solutions to current real-world problems that relate to the game theme. This year the game theme is “Replay”. FIRST is encouraging teams to design and create something that would involve getting or keeping people active. Ordinarily, teams compete in events with 20-30 teams who compete side by side on game fields. This year all competitions will be held remotely/virtually. The current plan is for this to happen via Zoom.

Next, FLL Explore, formerly known as FLL, Jr. This program is for students in 2nd-4th grade. The FIRST website says this about FLL Explore
“In Explore, teams of students ages 6-10 focus on the fundamentals of engineering as they explore real-world problems, learn to design, and code and create unique solutions made with LEGO bricks and powered by LEGO® Education WeDo 2.0.” FLL Explore is a non-competitive division of FIRST. Teams usually present a “Show Me” board and small model to show what they learned and present this at a Showcase. The theme for his year is “Playmakers”. Currently, no showcases are scheduled, though remote or virtual events may happen. I (Lori) am considering starting an Explore team at St. Cloud Christian, where we currently host an FLL Challenge team. A great deal depends on what happens with COVID and if I can find help to lead the team. The nearest Explore teams are in the Twin Cities.

Finishing up with the youngest, and new this year, is FIRST LEGO Leauge Discover for students in Preschool-1st grade. According to the FIRST website, this program is:
“For children ages 4-6, this playful introductory STEM program ignites their natural curiosity and builds their habits of learning with hands-on activities in the classroom and at home using LEGO® DUPLO® bricks. ” As far as I know there are no Discover teams yet in Central Minnesota, but perhaps in the future there will be the opportunity to offer this experience to your youngest learners. (I have not heard a theme announced for FLL Discovery. Perhaps they don’t include that element in this program.)


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