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FAQs - FIRST® LEGO® League

Getting started

What’s the essential kit that I need to take part in FIRST® LEGO® League?

  • A LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Core Set (any version is acceptable: RCX, NXT, EV3).
  • A computer, laptop or tablet on which you can run the MINDSTORMS software – this is free to download from the LEGO® Education website.
  • Basic stationery for the Project.
  • The season’s Challenge Set, which you will be sent after your team have paid for registration through the IET FIRST® LEGO® League website. This is a mat with LEGO® missions that the robot needs to complete.

I’m on a shoestring budget – will I still be able enter?

Just like when setting up a new sports team, you’ll need to invest in a bit of kit (see above).. However, there are various options you could explore to keep these costs down. For example:

  • Approach local engineering-based companies to see if they’ll sponsor you as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. As well as helping with your costs, they could provide team t-shirts with the company’s logo, and feature in any local media coverage of your team’s work – students competing with LEGO® robots makes for a good news story. They could also provide a mentor to support the team.
  • Contact your local STEM Learning contract holder to see if they know of anyone in the area who has a spare MINDSTORMS kit that you could borrow while you get started.
  • Hold a “LEGO® Amnesty” by asking parents to donate unused LEGO® to your team with which they can build their robot.
  • Contact us at firstlegoleague@theiet.co.uk to see if we have any sponsored team places available. Each year various companies sponsor teams to take part in the competition. There may be specific eligibility requirements.

I’ve registered a team. What should I do next to get them started?

The challenge is released on the 1st August, and your Challenge Set will be sent to you soon after this (as long as you’ve paid your registration fee!). If you have some time available before this, get your team to start exploring their MINDSTORMS® kit and the programming software.

When the challenge is released, your initial role is to focus your team on digesting the information in the documents and helping them to organise their time. It’s important that they make the decisions on what they do, but you can make sure they’re not getting too absorbed in one side of the challenge at the expense of the other two. They need to work just as hard on the Project as the robot and need to demonstrate their Core Values in everything they do.

A group of FIRST® LEGO® League participants helped us put together this video with tips on getting your team up and running.

Is it mandatory to construct a Robot Game practice table?

No. It’s useful to have this because the team may want to use the walls when tackling some of the missions - but many teams do very well without it. If you want to build one, instructions are in the Field Set-up Guide [PDF: 1.247 MB] for this season. The event organisers will provide the competition tables on the day, and usually a couple of practice tables for the teams to share.

Working on the challenges

What’s more important, the Robot Game or the Project?

The Project, Robot Game, Robot Design and the Core Values are all equally weighted parts of FIRST® LEGO® League. The most successful teams are those who perform consistently well across all categories.

As the coach, do I have to know how to program the LEGO® robots myself?

No. It’s not difficult to pick up the basics of the software and it’s up to the team members to find the information they need to complete the challenges. The latest version of the LEGO MINDSTORMS software has a Getting Started section with very useful lessons.

Download the latest version of the software for free.

Do we have to complete all the missions on the Robot Game field?

No. It’s very unusual for a team to do this, with teams on average completing two or three missions. Your team needs to strategically choose which missions to tackle to maximise points over the two-and-a-half-minute length of the match. Make sure the team read the rules carefully and don’t miss missions where they can pick up easy points.

I’ve seen some FIRST® LEGO® League robots on YouTube scoring hundreds of points. What if my team’s robot can’t do that?

The majority of teams keep their robot pretty simple. Most teams will be just as nervous as yours before they get to the tournament, but if they do find themselves competing against a very experienced team in the Robot Game, encourage your team to learn all they can from watching them – and remember that FIRST® LEGO® League isn’t only about the robots! Tournament staff will be working hard to make sure that your team leave feeling good about what they’ve done and the atmosphere at the events is always friendly and supportive.

The rules

There are a lot of rules for the Robot Game! What's the best way for the team to approach them?

At the beginning, you can help your team to digest the rules by dividing the document up into manageable chunks. You can also pick out things that you think will be particularly relevant to your team's planning (based on their level of experience with MINDSTORMS) and bring these to their attention.

The rules are carefully worded so that they can be taken literally - younger participants may need your support to get used to this. It's crucial that the team understands how their robot needs to work from the outset so that they don't spend lots of time working on a design that won't be accepted on tournament day. To pick out a few key things to help them get started:

  • The robot has to be made entirely of LEGO® parts.
  • The robot has to be programmed, so that it runs autonomously on the mat (they can’t control it using Bluetooth).
  • It has to start entirely in base. Be sure to check the maximum allowable height for the robot as this changes regularly.
  • They can program it to come back as often as they like during the two-and-a-half-minutes of the game so that they can restart it with a different program.
  • Anything the robot does (good or bad) stays as it is - they can't reset a mission with their hands during the game if the robot doesn't do what it's meant to.
  • Points are given based on how the mat looks when the clock stops.
  • If the robot gets stuck, they can bring it back with their hands, but this will incur a penalty which will lose them some points.

NB This list is not exhaustive – it’s essential that your team spends time checking the rules to make sure that their robot design will be accepted on the day.

Why does FIRST® LEGO® League allow such a wide age range?

The age range of 9-16 means that participants are able to progress steadily over several years and newer teams can learn from experienced ones at tournaments.

If you’re working with younger children, please do reassure them that the atmosphere at the tournament event will be friendly and welcoming. They also have every chance of winning awards: a third of teams who progressed to the 2018-19 UK and Ireland Final were aged 9-11.

The fact that FIRST® LEGO® League emphasises the Project and Core Values as much as the Robot Game means that the programme is accessible to a wider range of children than most other robotics competitions.

Tournament day

What happens on the tournament day?

Teams arrive at the venue, check in and are each allocated their own “pit” area. This is their home space for the day (the local organisers will confirm what is and isn’t provided at their venue). There will be time for the team to settle in.

The day kicks off with an opening ceremony, in which the emcee will explain the timetable for the day and the awards that are up for grabs. Different tournaments use different timetable formats depending on the number of teams present and facilities available. Over the course of the day, your team will compete with their robot in at least three Robot Games and be interviewed by panels of judges on their approach to the Core Values and on the design of their robot. They will also need to give a five-minute presentation on their Project to a panel of judges, who will then ask them questions about their work.

Some tournaments include Robot Game knockout rounds and some will run additional activities for the teams while the judges deliberate. The day will end with the awards ceremony, at which every participant will receive a FIRST® LEGO® League medal. Awards are presented for each category and the overall champion team will be invited to progress to the National Finals.

My team are new and don’t think they’ll be ready to compete at the tournament. Can we pull out?

As long as your team have made an effort at tackling the Project and Robot Game in the spirit of the Core Values, they will learn a lot from attending the tournament and will enjoy the day.

The aim of the tournament is to celebrate the work that the students have done. All tournament staff will be working hard to make sure that there is a positive, encouraging atmosphere, so whether the team win an award or not they should come away feeling good about their work. If they’ve enjoyed working on the challenges and have fun at the tournament then you will have completed a successful first year in FIRST® LEGO® League and should be well placed to go again next season!

Do new teams ever win prizes in their first year?

Yes, this happens a lot. A few new teams every year win the Champion’s Award at their tournament, and in 2016 the top award at the UK and Ireland Final was won by a primary school team who were taking part for the first time. They went on to represent their country at the FIRST® LEGO® League World Festival in the USA, where they won an award for innovation.