Mentoring first lego league: Challenges and rewards of working with youth

David Richter, Kurt Johnson, Janis P. Terpenny, Richard Goff

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) organizes friendly competitions between students, ages 9- to 14-years-old. The competition focuses on engineering challenges addressing a theme in science and technology. For 2006, FLL chose nanotechnology as the central theme. The youth used a semi-autonomous robot constructed from LEGO® brand building blocks to perform tasks related to current themes in nanotechnology research. In addition to the robot competition, the students researched and presented on a current topic in the field of nanotechnology. To facilitate the project, FLL relies on volunteers from the community including coaches and mentors. This paper explores the experience of two graduate engineering students from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) as they mentor the Kipps Elementary School FLL team. The two graduate students acted as technical mentors to the team. As mentors, the graduate students provided technical direction without suggesting actual design ideas to the team as the youth designed and built the robot for competition. The overall administration of the team was handled by the coach, a volunteer from the community, who managed the assignments, focus, and discipline of the group. To effectively mentor the youth, the graduate students each attended at least one meeting per week and worked closely with the coach to follow appropriate strategies in their mentoring. Since the coach had prior experience with FLL and this team, he was relied upon to make decisions regarding team focus and strategy. The youth worked on specific tasks in smaller subgroups, where the mentors were called upon to help focus the youths' energy to the task given by the coach. The mentors found working with the FLL to be a fun and rewarding experience. One major reward had been observing the delight of the children when they produced an idea. Another reward was the sense of accomplishment felt by the mentor when one of the children showed understanding of a concept the mentor was describing. This paper also addresses the following challenges experienced by the mentors as they relate to FLL mentoring: communication with children and the language difficulties, the youths' concentration level on a problem and their narrow or wide focus, the difficulty of leading to learning as opposed to giving answers, and the creation of a constructive versus a destructive atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering(all)


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