Compiled by Project Bucephalus (Australia) with help from the World Changers (USA)
What makes a good Research Project? For that matter, what makes a good Presentation? We’ll let you know when we find out!
The Research Project is the most open-ended part of the FIRST LEGO League. Project Bucephalus has been doing FLL for 7 years and we think we have a reasonable idea of how things work. However, we are constantly getting new ideas and approaches, and a brilliant approach one season may be completely unsuitable for another.
These unofficial rules are a little different from the other sections. They work for our team – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do better!
#1: Research the Project.
Even the Project has rules. Read the Project Challenge Guide and understand which subjects are valid!
#2: Don’t Fear the Rubric
In fact, the rubric is a great template for your Research Project. It shows exactly what the Judges are looking for! If you can’t understand the rubric, ask a veteran team for help (Contact Us!).
#3: Don’t let the Project suffer from Middle-Child syndrome
In a typical FLL family, the eldest sibling (the Robot Game) gets the privileges and the youngest (the Core Values) gets the attention. However, the middle child (Project) tends to not get enough of either!
Treat all the siblings equally! Projects need attention from the beginning, need lots of time to develop, and shouldn’t be forgotten – otherwise they will turn out neglected and bitter.
#4: Research isn’t boring
…and your Presentation shouldn’t be either. Project Judges will see many performances during a single tournament. Entertain the judges and make sure they remember you!
#5: Join the Circus
Presentations can involve music, drama, special effects, gymnastics, dancing, mime, or ANYTHING you can think of.
Be impressive. Be passionate. Be outrageous!
#6: Rocket-powered wheelchairs are cool
Don’t restrict your ideas to “Sensible” solutions. Sometimes crazy ideas are fun, interesting, and valuable. Just remember to treat them seriously – if you’re going to design a rocket-powered wheelchair, make sure you include research on aerodynamics, fuel, and safety!
#7: Milk it for all it’s worth
Every team has their own opportunities and perspectives. From the Scout team that has access to campsites and experienced leaders, to the team member that lives on a dairy farm or has a Drama teacher for a parent.
Identify these opportunities and use them to your advantage in research, solution, or even the presentation!
#8: Start with your passions
Picking a Project subject can be daunting. Begin your search in areas where team members are enthusiastic – even if you don’t think there’s any connection! Stage, sporting field, or great outdoors can all provide unique problems to be solved. Start researching and the results may surprise you…
#9: Never underestimate the power of an idea
Don’t be too quick to dismiss a Project idea. Many good solutions have come from ideas that initially seemed “lame”, uninspiring, or just a lost cause. That said, there ARE bad ideas – just make sure you check them before throwing them out!
#10: FAQ (and Answers)
The interview process is a fantastic way for judges to give feedback and find out more about your Project. The Judges will ask questions: sometimes they will be easy, sometimes they will be challenging, and at least once your team will have absolutely no idea how to respond.
How do you prepare?
Get the team used to being interviewed BEFORE the tournament – and this includes figuring out a way to avoid the whole team answering at once! Practice with possible questions (use the rubric for guidance). Share the Project with people outside the team, and get them to ask their own questions.
#11: The first read-through should always go long
The first Presentation read-through is a litmus test. Going too long can be a good sign! Yes, you WILL have to cut material, and lots more rehearsal is needed. However, this is usually a good indicator of a well-researched project. On the other hand, having time to spare in your presentation is usually a sign that you need to go and visit an extra professional or two (or read more books).
#12: 300 Seconds.
…that’s how long you get for your Presentation. Don’t waste a second.
#13: Research, Research, Research.
You can never do too much research! However, don’t just rely on Google. Make sure you try all avenues: include documentaries, articles, books, interviews with professionals, and hands-on experiments. You may find something surprising!
#14: Escape the obvious.
This is more of a suggestion than a rule! “Obvious” subjects will be tackled by lots of teams – particularly the subjects mentioned in the Game Manual. It can be disheartening to attend a tournament and find 6 other teams with the same idea as yours (and yes, this has happened to us!). Look for something unusual!
#15: Keep it professional.
Involve as many Professionals as possible in your Project – both with the Solution and general Research. Having an expert opinion can be invaluable to your team. Some Professionals won’t have much spare time, but an emailed list of questions can be just as worthwhile as a personal interview.
#16: Specialise, don’t generalise.
Another suggestion (not a rule): focus on a narrow area rather than an entire field. For example, look at the vehicle-related deaths of Tasmanian Devils recently released into the wild rather than general road fatalities.
A narrow focus can help you produce a unique solution…and it’s quite likely that the solution will have a broader application.
#17: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The closer you are to your tournament, the more likely you are to discover someone has just solved the problem you are researching…or has come up with the same idea!
Don’t let this discourage your team. Mention it to the judges, or even research this new solution as part of your Project – remember to add an explanation of why the team’s idea is better!
#18: Question everything
Problems needing to be solved aren’t always obvious. The more you research a field, the more likely it is you will discover an issue that really needs a solution – and would make an excellent Project!
Have questions ready for professionals. Find out why things are done in certain ways. Ask about the things that cause frustration and concern.
#19: The good project
Understand the purpose of the Research Project. It’s not to win awards, it’s not to earn a patent – those things are awesome, but the Project is about something much simpler: Discovery. A good Project will see your team members exploring, learning, and asking questions. Anything else is a bonus.