AMES, Iowa – Well, sure, it’s fun for kids to build and program LEGO® robots.
There will be screaming. Cheering. High fives. There will be smiles and silly hats. And as contest organizers like to say, there will be gracious professionalism and “coopertition.”
“What we discover is more important than what we win,” says one of the contest’s core values. So you’ll see students sharing innovate approaches to real-world problems, too.
This year, the discoveries and problems are all about human-animal interactions. The 9- to 14-year-olds participating in the championship represent 120 teams from all over the state (60 teams will compete on Saturday, another 60 on Sunday). The teams have been researching animal problems and coming up with solutions they’ll present to judges.
They’ve also been building LEGO® robots that autonomously run across a game table to complete 15 simulated missions, including safely transporting a shark, using a machine to milk a cow and releasing a panda back into the wild.
All the fun and action is free and open to the public with robot matches from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. both days in the Howe Hall atrium. The roughly 3,000 participants, coaches, families and spectators expected to attend each day can also catch 24 teams of younger students in the FIRST LEGO® League Jr. program displaying their research of animal problems from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the Biorenewables Complex atrium. And, teams of students in the Global Innovation Award program will present their inventions from 1 to 3:30 p.m., also in the Biorenewables Complex atrium.
A live webcast of the championship will be available here.
These competitions are designed to promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Does it work?
Camille Sloan Schroeder, the K-12 community outreach manager for the College of Engineering and director of Iowa FIRST LEGO® League, said studies show there’s a higher likelihood the students in the program will pursue STEM studies. There’s also a higher likelihood those students will stay in STEM fields.
That’s not all: the contests encourage gender and racial diversity in STEM programs. They’re also great at teaching life skills such as time management, problem solving and resilience.
“It’s fun and cool to run robots while growing skill sets that transcend FIRST LEGO® League,” she said. “That’s why we’re still doing this after 15 years.”
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This year’s Iowa FIRST LEGO® League sponsors are the Iowa State College of Engineering, John Deere and Rockwell Collins. FIRST LEGO® League is the creation of FIRST, a nonprofit organization based in New Hampshire dedicated to inspiring young people to explore science and technology, and the LEGO® Group, the Denmark-based toy manufacturer.