While this year has created unprecedented changes in how we all work and learn, the new school year has begun. This brings a new crop of students itching to get their hands on a robot. One of the easiest ways to help youth find their way to a robot is to get involved with FIRST robotics.

FIRST is a national program with a sports-like model where students work as teams over several months to prepare for a competition. There are FIRST programs in the Gorge for students ages 6 to 18. Parents who have students interested in robotics are encouraged to consider coaching a team.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for students ages nine to 14 in particular is a great way to introduce students to robotics. Teams of three to ten students begin working together as school starts to prepare for one of the Gorge Qualifying Tournaments. This year’s challenge is RePlay, focusing on the evolution of sports and activities that make us physically and mentally strong! The FLL season has been lengthened this year to meet students, parents and teachers with the flexibility they need as they adapt to meet safety guidelines. Virtual tournaments are anticipated, unless it is safe to come together in person, to be held sometime in the new year.

FLL Parent coaches do not need to understand robots or programming; their main duty is helping the students focus and navigating the competition challenges. And, there are many resources out there to support you and your students! Just a few include:

  • The Gorge Tech Alliance (GTA) has a loaner program for the robots, parts, and laptops needed to participate in this program. Contact ami@crgta.org to find out about how to check out equipment for the season!
  • The Oregon Robotics and Tournament Outreach Program (ORTOP) has been working to adapt how teams in Oregon participate this year, creating more opportunities for interaction for coaches and teams throughout the year knowing the annual tournaments will look different. They have available a Team Support Grant to help cover costs for teams who need it.
  • ORTOP also has resources for coaches and teams around this year’s theme, and for coaching in a pandemic. This includes additional trainings listed on their website and other online guides.

In Hood River County, Jeff Blackman from the Hood River County School District is working to make it easy to get started this year. He can help teams get up and running with a one-stop shop at the Gorge Fab Bus to pick up equipment, sign up for FIRST and get game elements. He is also working to connect FLL teams with high school First Robotics Competition teams for additional mentorship opportunities. For more information, contact jeff.blackman@hoodriver.k12.or.us.

The GTA’s equipment for loan and support of robotics events is made possible by our regional tech businesses including Google, Insitu, and others. The GTA is a non-profit industry association that seeks to support, connect, and develop the technology community of the Gorge. Learn more at crgta.org.