Iowa FIRST LEGO League Championships: Students build better cities, crowd cheers

A FIRST LEGO League team

The Iowa FIRST® LEGO® League State Championships will bring 120 teams of students to the College of Engineering this weekend, Jan. 18 and 19. Larger photo. Photo courtesy of Iowa FIRST LEGO League.

AMES, Iowa – A student pushes the go button on the top of a LEGO Mindstorms robot and the little machine rolls out to cross a LEGO bridge or raise a LEGO tower.

Teams of 9- to 14-year-old students all across the state have been working since August to build and program their robots to improve a model city. They’ve also been researching a real problem with a building or public space in their own communities and coming up with solutions.

It’s all part of this year’s FIRST® LEGO® League challenge to be a “City Shaper” who thinks about building more stable, beautiful, useful, accessible and sustainable buildings. The state’s best teams – 120 of them – will demonstrate their robot, research and thinking skills during the annual Iowa FIRST LEGO League State Championships this weekend, Jan. 18 and 19, at Iowa State University’s College of Engineering.

Each day of the state championships will feature 60 teams chosen to advance during regional qualifiers. The championships run from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. both days. Opening and closing ceremonies, plus the robot matches, will be in the Howe Hall atrium. All events are free and open to the public.

What does this kind of challenge do for students?

“The hope is that it gets kids thinking about sustainability, land and resource utilization, the design of future cities and community spaces as positive impacts in cultural awareness and encouragement of diversity,” said Camille Sloan Schroeder, the programs manager for Engineering Community Outreach and director of Iowa FIRST LEGO League. “Our goal is that team members are inspired to continue to be creative in considering solutions to our world’s problems and understand how impactful we all can be to building our tomorrow.”

While there is plenty of thinking and inspiring going on, the championships also feature loud cheering, silly hats, colorful T-shirts and a big crowd. There are also regular demonstrations of the challenge’s philosophy of gracious professionalism and “coopertition.”

It’s all about helping students learn to work together to achieve their LEGO goals – and some much bigger ones.

As a contest description says, “Our cities and towns face big issues, like transportation, accessibility and even natural disasters. How can we shape a better future for everyone? It will take teamwork and imagination. Are you ready to build a better tomorrow together?”

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This year’s Iowa FIRST® LEGO® League sponsors are the Iowa State College of Engineering, John Deere, Collins Aerospace and the Mark & Carolyn Guidry Foundation. 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.