FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr. Unveil Splashy Themes

Aqua Adventure logoNext season, FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr. teams will be taking a dive into the water journey. The programs recently unveiled their water-themed Challenge names and logos for the 2017-2018 season: FIRST LEGO League – HYDRO DYNAMICS and FIRST LEGO League Jr. – AQUA ADVENTURE.

But before teams can splash into the Challenges, the creators at FIRST and LEGO® Education have to test the waters. The development process begins nearly three years before the Challenges are unveiled, when the theme is selected.

Hydro Dynamics logoThe FIRST LEGO League staff gathers theme ideas from Coaches and students, Volunteers, Affiliate Partners, and others. They research three or four topics and evaluate them against a set of 12 criteria, such as whether it’s a global topic, accessible to kids, and impactful. From there, one theme is selected, kicking off two-and-a-half years of work to develop the Challenges. “This theme relates strongly to our own lives,” Marijn Delhez, LEGO Education International Marketing Manager, said. “I often take for granted that we have water running out of our taps, but before this Challenge I rarely paid attention to the whole process behind that.”

After the theme is selected, the Challenge staff does internal research, interviews topic experts, and conducts field research to develop the Challenge projects and models. This process may sound familiar to FIRST LEGO League students. “In putting the Challenges together, we are basically embarking on a grown-up version of FIRST LEGO League because we are coming up with the problem we want the kids to solve, and the parameters around the Project,” Jen O’Callaghan, FIRST LEGO League Community Engagement Manager, said.

A Flow of Ideas

Challenge staff on field trip to waste water treatment plantIn January 2016, FIRST staff, LEGO Education staff, community representatives, and several water experts gathered at FIRST Headquarters in New Hampshire for a series of Challenge Advisory Team meetings. Each topic expert* gave a 20-minute presentation on their area of the field to help Challenge creators increase their knowledge about water and brainstorm key concepts, terminologies, and careers that should be reflected in the missions and models. “The topic experts are not only sharing their individual area of expertise, but also learning from the other topic experts,” Betsy Daniels, FIRST Senior Program Manager, said.

After the advisory meetings, the Challenge creators took a few field trips – including a trip to a waste water treatment plant in the heat of summer – as they developed the Challenges and materials. Challenge creators learned a great deal about the water journey, and hopes that teams do too. There’s a reason pipes feature prominently in the theme logos. “We usually just turn on our water and use it, but it has to come from a whole series of pipes we never see,” Alisha MacIntyre, LEGO Education International Competitions Manager, said. “That’s a reason I am excited about this topic. Kids don’t normally have an opportunity to learn about the engineering behind their water, and I know they will have some innovative ideas to help make the process better.”

Challenge staff stand in front of door that says "Sludge Processing"Delhez and MacIntyre agreed that developing the FIRST LEGO League Jr. Inspire Set box was their favorite part of the process. “Designing a LEGO box is something you don’t get to do every day, and we believe that the new Inspire Set will have a very positive impact on the experience of the participating teams,” Delhez said. “I am very excited to see what the kids come up with!” MacIntyre added.

Similar thought is put into the game mat. “We work very closely with LEGO Education to brainstorm ideas and design for the mat,” Daniels said. “It’s going to be a really cool mat this year.”

This year, the mat includes a model that gives a subtle nod to this collaboration. The symbol, which eagle-eyed teams may be able to spot, represents New Hampshire’s famous Red Arrow Diner – a favorite dining spot when the LEGO Education team visits FIRST Headquarters from Denmark. “Something about it just inspires creative thinking when we come for meetings,” MacIntyre said. “The diner feels like a community.”

What will the Inspire Set and game mat look like for these Challenges? Teams will have to tread water a little longer. The AQUA ADVENTURE Challenge and the HYDRO DYNAMICS Challenge will be revealed in August.


Group photo of Challenge topic experts*Special thanks to the topic experts who volunteered their time during the Challenge Advisory Team meetings:

  • Bob Kerry, Environmental Engineer, Town of Londonderry Public Works & Engineering
  • Ed Uhring, Lead Field Engineer, DEKA
  • Eric Zoglio, Sr. Engineering Technician III, NxStage Medical Inc.
  • Jan Boll, Professor, Washington State University
  • Loridee Wetzel, FIRST LEGO League Partner, Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program
  • Michelle L. Soupir, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering – Iowa State University
  • Sarah White, Environmental Compliance Specialist, UniFirst Corporation
  • Zafar Adeel, Director, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

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