This post was written by the Thunderbots from Sacramento, California, USA.  They’ve participated in FIRST® LEGO® League since 2013 and were Global Innovation Award Semi-Finalists for their invention, The UltraOrganix Filter, in last season’s HYDRO DYNAMICSSM Challenge. The UltraOrganix Filter removes bacteria and metal contaminants from water using solar water disinfection in combination with all natural, low cost materials.  083942-0160

We love to share our FIRST LEGO League journey to motivate kids to follow in our footsteps. We have nurtured and contributed to the inception of over 30 FIRST LEGO League rookie teams in our region!  We have been working with California assembly members on options for getting FIRST LEGO League into schools. True to the thunder in our name, we create a lot of noise about FIRST® to encourage more kids to join. We hope that all kids get an opportunity to join FIRST LEGO League and reap the same benefits that we have over our 6 year journey through this amazing program.

Our proudest accomplishment in this journey is the robotics education class “STEM Lab: LEGO® Robotics” that we created and implemented in our local Orangevale Library. 

libraryThe Thunderbots pose outside their library with Bruce Barber, Orangevale Library Superviser.  Of the Thunderbots program, Bruce said: “We made a great impact in our community exposing local students to the wonders of robotics which helped us meet our Tech and Creation priority goal.  The volunteers from the Thunderbots team provided outstanding leadership in helping the program participants understand the lessons and provide a welcoming environment that kept them coming back.” 

We got the idea for establishing this program at the 2018 FIRST LEGO League HYDRO DYNAMICS Global Innovation Award celebration. From the moment that we stepped onto the campus of San Jose State University, which was the venue for the Global Innovation Award in 2018, we were inspired. The teams from around the globe speaking various languages, the signs everywhere welcoming the “Global Innovation Ambassadors”  – it had not sunk in that we were actually going to become global innovation ambassadors till then! On the second day of the event, all the teams were invited to a documentary movie – one that would have a profound impact on us: Dream Big: Engineering our World.  On the second day during the award ceremony, we took a pledge to become Global Innovation Ambassadors.  


(left) The Thunderbots show off the UltraOrganix Filter during the June 2018 Global Innovation Award. 

We came back from the event and brainstormed how we could encourage other kids to dream big and fulfill our pledge to our community. We shared our experience with a librarian at Orangevale Public library and pitched starting a free robotics class for kids. We contacted LEGO Education for help, and worked with the library to purchase kits and design a robotics education program that could be offered in the library.

We scheduled the classes to be two hours each week and had the library publish information about an initial 3-month session to test the waters. Lo and behold, there was a lot of interest, and after the first session was full, we had parents inquiring about the next session!

In each class, we teach a building and programming activity. The first couple of classes are designed be super simple to get the kids interested. For example, in the first class we attach the motors to the robot brick and write a very simple program to get the robot to move in a circle. It is amazing to see what kids without any prior exposure to robotics or programming can accomplish and their excitement on building their first robot and getting it to move!


We are motivated by the fact that we get to give local underprivileged kids exposure to a great program totally free. Kids can nurture their interest in robotics and hopefully get interested to start their own FIRST LEGO League team with this newfound knowledge. These are some of the testimonials we have heard from parents:

  • “My son loses interest so easily in other classes we enroll him in but has not missed a single class and wants to come back session after session”.
  • “You have motivated me to go start a FIRST LEGO League team.

At the library most kids come with their parents who are then eager to have their kid join a FIRST LEGO League team but are worried about the expertise needed, expenses required, etc. The Thunderbots help by showing them how to sign up and advise them on the entire process. Several new teams started last year out of our library program at the Orangevale Library, and we hope more teams will start in the upcoming season.

lessons are always made fun and interesting

The Thunderbots strongly encourage other FIRST LEGO League teams to do the same outreach by starting a similar program in their library. Special thanks to Sacramento Public Library,  LEGO Education and FIRST for supporting us in this endeavor. The idea that we might have started a kid on a lifelong passion for robotics and maybe a career in STEM is fulfilling. It makes us feel that we have dared to dream big and make it happen.  This is the first step in our journey to change the world!

Keep up to date with the Thunderbots’ library initiatives at: @Thunderbotsfll 

FIRST would like to thank the Thunderbots for writing this post in the midst of planning to expand their classes to other public library branches in Sacramento, participating in the Northern California Innovation Expo, fundraising to attend the Open Invitational in Turkey at the end of May. and preparing to give a workshop on their library project at the FIRST Championship. Their workshop, Taking FIRST LEGO League to Underprivileged Kids, will be taking place at FIRST Championship Houston on Friday, April 19th at 9:30 a.m. CT in the George R. Brown Convention Center, Room 370E.