Founded nearly 20 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen, the 2008-2009 FIRST season attracted more than 196,000 students and 85,000 mentors, coaches, and volunteers from 51 countries.
FIRST provides four programs, three of which are geared toward students: FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) for Grades 9-12; the FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) for Grades 4-8 (ages 9-14); and the Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) for Grades K-3 (ages 6-9).
The fourth program, FIRST Robotics Competition (FTC), is available to students in Grades 9-12, and is also open to adults.
Jr.FLL, FLL, and FTC all use custom LEGO sets and robotics systems as competition kits.
Each September a Challenge is revealed to teams participating in the various programs.
Challenges are themed, such as the 2009-2010 FLL Smart Move Challenge, and include multiple obstacles teams must overcome or problems they must solve within a designated time.
Upon learning the details of the Challenge, teams must determine their strategy; develop a plan; and then program, build, and test their robot.
In addition, teams are faced with certain competition limitations including the overall size of their robot and which sensors they can use in competition.
Local, regional, and state Challenge events are help throughout the competition season, which stretches from October through March.
The annual programs culminate in an international robotics competition and celebration where teams win recognition, gain self confidence, develop people and life skills, make new friends, and perhaps discover an unforeseen career path.
For more information about FIRST and its programs, visit www.usfirst.org. Registration for the 2010-2011 season will be in May 2010.