Introducing FROGS Robotics: An FLL directory of teams, mentors, and experts.

FROGS, the FLL Robotics Outreach Group of Salem (VA), invite you to register for our website directory. We hope to help FLL teams make connections with experts and mentors who can help them, and to help FLL teams meet each other. We'd love to include FRC and FTC teams who support or mentor FLL teams (or would like to!) in our directory. We also invite adults to register to serve as experts. FLL teams need adults willing to share a wide variety of interests and professions -- this can be as simple as a 30 minute Zoom, but it has a huge impact on the kids. Thanks! 

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Getting started with FLL


Getting started with FLL (Copenhaver workshop materials) 

What you need:
  • 2-10 kids ~9 years old to 14 (not yet 15 on January 1 2019 for 2019 season), 2 coaches
  • A robot kit! EV3 (or NXT) or a Spike Prime (released in August – adopt at own risk!) per team. (Two is better if teams are large, but don’t let having only one robot stop you!)
  • A way to program the robot. EV3: windows/mac laptop is ideal, tablets/Chromebooks OK for rookie teams. Older laptops are totally OK for EV3!   Bluetooth is nice.  Spike: Laptop or tablet. 
  • FLL table (4’x8’) with walls

Costs (per team per year):
  • Registration: $330 (national – includes mission models and mat) + $150 (VA/DC state – includes qualifier tournament).
    • NOTE: Season passes don’t allow teams to go to a tournament. Not a good option for many schools.
  • $200 for state championship (if team qualifies), plus hotel & travel (JMU, Sat AM-Sun PM)
  • T-shirts/hats if wanted
  • Project supplies, office supplies, etc: $50-200.  (Highly variable)
Start-up costs (per team, once)
  • FLL table ($100+) – multiple teams can share
  • Robot ($400ish, less if used)
    • Buy the EV3 education version or Spike directly from LEGO Education or through FIRST.
    • SPIKE users will probably want the expansion set.
    • EV3 users may want the EV3 expansion set, or may want to add another color sensor. It’s OK to skip these if budget is tight.
    • The “home” EV3 set (31313) is OK to use, but lacks the battery pack, gyro sensor (popular with advanced teams), and ultrasonic sensor found in the Education version. The home set’s IR sensor and remote cannot be used in FLL. 
  • Computer (totally OK to use one already in your classroom) or tablet (suboptimal) – varies
  • Challenge released August 1 (register in May-July if possible)
  • (VA-specific) Tournaments one Saturday in November
  • (VA-specific) State tournament: first weekend in December
  • (VA-specific) No spring season – use your robot(s) for other learning!
How to fund it:
Curricula and lessons for FLL:
Non-FLL EV3 robotics curricula and lessons:
Other advice:
  • The Challenge Document will be released August 1. Read it.  Yes, all 30+ pages.  Then read it again, and get the kids to read it.  If you don’t understand something, ask!  Rules are enforced.
  • Use the rubrics, and encourage your team members to use them too!
  • Understand what the qualifier day is going to be like and share it with your team. Do a dress rehearsal day for judging and robot game.
  • Many teams run better if they’ve had a snack first.
  • At its best, project-based learning can mean that the kids learn what they’re most excited about, and you want to have some fun built in to every day, for sure. BUT there’s a list of deliverables they’ll be expected to have at the tournament.  Coaches can help kids prioritize.  It isn’t always easy.
  • Large teams can’t all work on the same thing at once. Plan together the work together, then split up into pairs/threes to build/program/research/brainstorm/write/assemble posters/etc.
  • Kids can specialize a little bit, but everyone must participate in all parts. Learning happens in all parts of FLL – don’t be afraid to require all team members to work on all parts, including the parts they’re not as confident in!
  • Have fun! FLL is a ton of fun, but it is hard
Where to get help:
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Getting started in FLL

So you'd like to get started in FLL?  Awesome! 

The document below is VA/DC-specific in spots, and was written in 2018.  It currently needs an update.   Suggestions welcome, to

Can you find a team?  (Option #1)

Unfortunately, there isn't a great team matching system in our area. FIRST has strong feelings about youth privacy, and they make it hard to share contact information for teams.  VA/DC FLL has some suggestions for how to contact other teams on their website.

RCROBOTS is trying to maintain contact with all existing teams in our region.  We're happy to pass your information on to teams near you.  Get in touch if you're looking for neighboring teams, please.

Right now, there are only a few FLL teams in the Roanoke Valley, and some school-based teams have restrictions on who can join.  Many families will end up with option #2...

Start a team (Option #2)

If you have an FLL-age kid and don't have an existing team with openings nearby, starting a team may be your best option.  You can coach FLL, even if you don't have any prior FLL experience.  I think the most important feature of an FLL coach is an enthusiasm for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), but you don't need any specific background in robotics.  You do need a willingness to engage with the materials available, including especially the coach's handbook and challenge document.  FLL requires the kids to do the work, but you'll want to be in a good position to help the kids figure out what they're supposed to do.

When should you start?  Use your pre-season if possible!

The FLL season officially starts on August 1.   In past years, this region's tournaments have all been in November.  That gives you about three months to get your team ready for the tournament.  If at all possible, try to use your pre-season to get ready for FLL, so that you are less pressed once the season starts.  What can you do in pre-season?  (For more ideas, visit this excellent article.)
  • Identify a second coach.  Get both coaches through FIRST's Youth Protection screening process.
  • Register the team (even if you don't have a team name or all the kids identified) and order the field set-up kit.  You'll want the field set-up kit in hand so that your team can start building it once directions are released.  Shipments can be slow.  Don't wait until August to order.
  • Sign up the FIRSTsteps curriculum.
  • Acquire an EV3 kit.  If you don't have any experience with EV3, it is a really good idea to work through the first basic rover build, and do some basic programming to make it drive around.  You don't have to become an EV3 expert, but you'll have to teach the kids to use the system, so you need some basic skills. Then take the rover back apart so the kids can build their own.
  • Recruit for the team (if possible - some school-based teams may have to wait until school starts).
  • Figure out who will build the FLL table, and where it will be stored.  You can practice with the table sitting on the floor without major issues, as long as you have the table walls.  Without walls, some missions won't be doable, so practicing with the mission mat alone is sub-optimal.
  • Figure out what you'll use for programming.  A laptop (Windows or Mac - not Chromebook) gives you access to the full programming suite.  The tablet and Chromebook app has substantially fewer features.  A rookie team without programming experience might be able to get by with a tablet/Chromebook for the first year, but sophisticated programming will require a laptop.
  • If you can get a team (mostly) assembled, consider scheduling some pre-season activities:
    • Pick a team name and create a t-shirt (if desired)
    • Learn about the topic: take a field trip, read books, watch a documentary, talk to experts, etc.  See this list of resources (outdated - need a new list for 2020 theme once released) for space-related ideas of all sorts.
    • Do team-building exercises
    • Have team members build the basic EV3 rover from directions and practice programming it, using the tutorials included with the software.  Can they get it to go exactly three feet?  Drive until it comes to a black line?  Turn 90 degrees?  If you can get your team to build some basic skills over the summer, they'll be much better equipped to do the robot game. 

Recruiting team members (and their parents)

  • A team member and parent contract is a good idea.  Make expectations clear the outset.
  • If your team is like most rookie teams, you'll have one robot being shared by up to ten kids.  Your team meeting time will need to be divided between Core Values exercises, work on the Project, work on the robot game, and creating all the presentation materials needed.  It'll be important to be very clear on this with parents and potential team members.  A kid who only wants to do creative building and isn't interested in the project might be better served by joining a local LEGO club.  (Salem and South County libraries both have one.)  Some teams let team members specialize a little bit, but all team members need to make at least some contribution in all areas.
  • Team members need to be serious about participating.  If possible, have the option of dismissing a team member (for the day or permanently) who isn't participating on the team in a positive way.

Team budget

  • Some teams fund-raise extensively.  If you're going to do this, pre-season is a great time.  Will a local business sponsor the team?  Can you do a fundraising night at a local restaurant?
  • Other teams may estimate the total cost and charge each team member's parents for their share of it.  Be clear on the refund policy, if any, for a child who quits the team mid-season.  As you're making your budget, don't forget office supplies, money for project supplies, and snacks (if desired).

Final thoughts

Even if you've coached a sport or have years in the classroom, a mentor (or three) can be a good resource for a rookie coach.  If you'd like to be connected with a mentor coach or a more experienced FLL team in the Roanoke area, please get in touch.

One of my go-to sources for online mentoring this year was the FLL Share and Learn Facebook group.

Resources and Links:

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Choosing between FLL and FLL Jr

A quick look at eligibility requirements for FLL and FLL Jr may leave you scratching your head.  So what do you do with a 9 year old, if either program is an option?  Let’s examine the two programs, as it may help with the decision.

Before we dive into the data, let's note that both programs have a different challenge topic (theme) each year.  As a result, both programs are very repeatable.  The kids can use programming and project management skills from one year to jump-start the next year, but they’ll be solving all new problems and learning about a new STEM topic each year.

We try to keep this document up to date, but pricing and schedule information is mostly from the 2017-2018 season, as 2018-2019 season information isn't yet available. Some information is Virginia- or Roanoke-centric.
US age requirements: Ages 6-9, on Jan 1 of challenge release year. (Kids who don't turn 10 until after Jan 1, 2018 can do 2018-2019 Mission Moon.). Lower age limit is not enforced. “Ages 9-14”, on Jan 1 of challenge release year. (Kids who don't turn 15 until after Jan 1, 2018 can do 2018-2019 Into Orbit.)  Lower age limit is not enforced in some regions.
Size of team 2-6 2-10
Equipment needed (reusable each year, per team) WeDo 2.0 ($185), a laptop or tablet to run it with (you probably have something, or $35-50 for a Kindle Fire, if you install the Play store), an inspire set (included in registration fee). EV3 set ($350-500) or SPIKE Prime, a laptop/computer/tablet (strong preference for laptop), field setup kit ($75), 4x8ft table ($100-200 to build)
Registration (per team) $99 (includes inspire set) + $35 for an Expo (region-specific)$225 + $150 to VA/DC (includes qualifying tournament) + $150 (2017 price) if you progress to the state tournament.  
Format Non-competitive. Do what you do.  Rules are vague in spots, and you won’t be judged anyway. Competitive. Judging and awards.  Core values say that “what we learn is more important than what we win” but competition is clear at tournaments.  Important to follow the 30+ page rule book carefully.
Timing: Challenge release is August 1, Expos are mostly in February-April. 1-2 hours per week for 12 weeks is sufficient, but you could expand the season by doing more preliminary work with the WeDo or delving more into the challenge topic. Challenge release is August 1. Tournaments are in November in VA/DC.  2-4 (or even a lot more) hours per week needed, with many teams doing more.  The time pressure is real.  
Curriculum: Jr includes a session by session meeting guide (comes printed with each Inspire set, not online) and color workbook for each student.  Very doable for a rookie coach without much extra time. Some curriculum materials available, but much more open-ended = a lot more rookie coach planning time.
Meeting format: FLL Jr includes substantial free/creative building time within the curriculum.  The kit includes enough minifigure parts for the kids to build themselves, and they will.  The final team model has few restrictions. No free/creative building time. The team will need to build a robot that does specific missions, and most teams only have time and parts to explore a handful of robot designs before refining one.  
The Project and challenge topic Learn about the topic and build a Lego model showing how the challenge topic could be improved.  Present the team model and a poster to reviewers.  (Kids can do more if they want to.)Learn about the topic, a problem with the topic, and propose a solution/improvement.  Consult with experts and/or members of a community affected by the problem.  Some teams build a (non-Lego) prototype of their solution.   Give a presentation to the judges.

So what should you pick for kids on the line?
Start-up costs and time commitment are much less for FLL Jr.  It is a much easier program to start as a rookie coach and less workload for both kids and coaches.  
An apparent downside to starting in FLL Jr for a parent-coach is that you’ll need to buy a WeDo now and an EV3 in a couple years when your kid ages out of FLL Jr.  However, the cost of the yearly FLL registration is so much higher than FLL Jr participation that you won’t actually spend more money, even if you don’t resell the WeDo when done with it.

When should you put a nine-year old into FLL instead of FLL Jr?  
Perhaps after several years of FLL Jr or similar experiences, where you feel like you’ve exhausted the potential of FLL Jr. Or for a kid with really strong research skills (i.e. science fair) and/or strong programming (any language) and/or strong skills with Lego Technic and who enjoys competition.  Or if your child’s peer group (or older siblings) includes kids who are too old for FLL Jr, and it makes sense to keep the group together.

This document was created by Cathy Sarisky, FLL and FLL Jr coach.  Feedback and questions are very welcome to
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