Today’s post was written by Liz Colton, a K-6 science teacher at the Valley Horizon Elementary school in Yuma, Arizona.  Liz has coached FIRST® LEGO® League Team Super Aqua Squad since 2009.  In 2019, she became a Global Innovation Award key volunteer, and she’s also a FIRST® Certified Teacher Trainer. 

Starting in 2011, the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award was designed to showcase the real-world, innovative solutions that FIRST LEGO League teams create as a result of their Innovation Project. My team (the Super Aqua Squad) was a semi-finalist during the 2017-2018 HYDRO DYNAMICSSM season, and this year I was honored to be the Team Learning Facilitator at the event. It was the most rewarding volunteer experience you can imagine, working with amazing young innovators who were solving problems most adults didn’t even realize existed.


Last year’s INTO ORBITSM Challenge launched teams to their outer limits – the Challenge was out of this world because our collective resurgence back into space is just getting started. However, teams were up to the challenge and the 20 Global Innovation Award semi-finalists were invited to attend 2 days of workshops and inspiration in Silicon Valley, California, USA. The innovations this year’s semi-finalists brought were indeed “out of this world!” We were awestruck by the teams’ in-depth engineering process. Many teams worked with colleges and universities and leading professionals in fields related to the science they used.

Here are just some of the values I saw exhibited by the Innovation Ambassadors:

  • Core Values: There was strong display of all the FIRST Core Values through the event, particularly Coopertition – teams helped one another constantly.
  • Community: Coaches bonded with the FIRST “robo family” via social media and in person. Everywhere I went, I saw coaches supporting each other. The FIRST family & community feeling that I see at all FIRST events has an especially strong presence at the Global Innovation Award.  I witnessed lifelong connections being birthed.
  • 20190702-145721-1150Grit: The teams at Global Innovation showed true grit. As an educator, grit is a hot topic. Grit is a skill necessary to progress, grow, and be an innovator. Students need grit to push through and learn even when the content is tough. We know grit is not something you can necessarily learn – it is something instilled in you by your coaches, family, and team. The strength and character the determination of these kids was a phenomenal sight to see. It was the grit you would expect a pro athlete to possess. The schedule of the Global Innovation Award starts early and goes all day. I was blown away to see the teams power through the long daily schedule with positive attitudes and smiles; they absorbed everything and made every minute count.
  • Growth mindset: This past year Global Innovation Award teams were tasked with additional assignments that needed to be accomplished before they attended, such as an engineering change notice and business pitch. As I watched the teams from the beginning to the end of the process of the Global Innovation Award, I saw each group grow tremendously. I was excited to see the team’s pitches and Innovation Projects, displays refined and polished beyond the years of age of the students. It was inspiring!
  • 20190702-163451-1341Stories: Each team has their own unique learning journey. Like all stories, they had their ups and downs, celebrated failures, and learned lessons, but they each pushed through to triumph. They made it to the Global Innovation Award and that achievement is now part of their FIRST story. The hard work and sacrifice of each of these teams was humbling to see first-hand, to say the least.
  • The Innovation Generation: As Volunteer Team Learning Facilitator, I had the privilege to work with each team several times, first in large groups, then later in smaller groups, and even one on one with some. Each team had a unique, amazing innovation. They proved the statement “this is the generation of innovation” 100% true.  One of our runner-up teams had students that are only 10 and 11 years old (Chaos Crew of Fresno, California pictured below)! I can’t wait to see what they do next.20190702-190709-1778


Note: Most regions nominate the top-ranked team(s) in the Innovative Solution Award category from their Championship event(s) to be their Global Innovation Award regional nominee. Want to participate in the excitement of FIRST LEGO League? Registration is open now – learn more about the 2019-2020 CITY SHAPERSM season.

GIA Sponsor Band 2019_web