This post was written by Sarah Stray, FIRST Innovation Awards Manager.
Each year, FIRST LEGO League teams are tasked with a real-world problem in the annual Challenge theme; these Innovation Projects have a chance to vie for the Global Innovation Award. Exemplary Projects advance from their local region and after three phases of judging, the top 20 teams are invited to a multi-day event, complete with judging, inspiration, workshops, and connectivity.
Not surprisingly, this year was unique—it was the tenth anniversary, a natural time to reflect on how the award has grown from small beginnings to now shining a spotlight not only on some stellar inventions, but showcasing that educating youth on how to innovate is critically important. When we made the decision to pivot to a remote event experience this year, we knew we were in uncharted waters. However, we felt excitement and joy that we could still deliver that central tenet (which is a fancy way of saying we really dig shouting from any figurative rooftop that kids will solve important problems very well if you let them)! And yes – we were sad, too about not getting to be together in Orlando, Florida within the Disney Parks, but we also knew with a few refocuses on our spotlight, it would still shine brightly on our Global Innovation Award teams.
So, here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our remote days together:
With boundaries of physical distance no longer an impediment, we were able to recruit top talent from our Global Innovation Award sponsors from around the globe. Mentor from Australia – yep! Teams had two 1:1 mentor sessions with experts from our sponsors and also heard dynamic employees talk about their career paths.
Teams and coaches were game for everything.
An important competency when innovating is the ability to improvise. Something unexpected comes your way? No problem. Something you’ve never encountered before? I’ll give that a try. Our teams this year exhibited this improvisation at every turn. They helped us practice our remote judging format, they were willing to help with some sneaky sponsor thank you signs, they helped create content for our Broadcast, they lip synced, and they got creative with our theme days—Emoji Day, MEME Day, and Wacky Tacky day. You name it, they embraced giving it a try with grace and gusto.
Teams remained truly connected.
As we planned ways to engage our teams from around the world, we knew giving ample opportunity for them to stay connected with each other was key. Teams participated in virtual games, a Disney scavenger hunt, built virtual pits to showcase their Innovation Projects, got to know each other by meeting in small groups, and played trivia together. They shared regional cuisine through recipe sharing and teams posted the yummy results in our daily activity feed. My fave? Chocolate lava mug cake from the Greenscapers.
We saw coaches working tirelessly to prepare for this remote event and because we were iterating as we planned, new tasks popped up closer to their deadlines than is typical for the Global Innovation Award. Coaches were amazing at keeping all their team members on task and on track. During our first coach webinar, one of the team coaches typed in the chat “Our team was super surprised it was still happening. THANK YOU!”
This type of profound gratitude towards FIRST always takes me aback. It probably shouldn’t; I often see it overflowing within the FIRST community.
My intrinsic response is always—it’s our job to help youth be their best selves and prepare for life and the workforce. In this, we are unflappable. It is our honor. It is our privilege.
As always and especially in this unique year, it is us who are grateful for you.