Remember the days when you would sit in class, anxious to get home so you could keep building your latest Lego creation? Well, now that the toy brick company has expanded into robotics, St. Michaels University School and other schools around the world have found ways to integrate Lego into classes and after-school clubs, introducing young children to world of programming.
After launching Robotics Clubs at the Junior, Middle and Senior School earlier this year, students participated in their first-ever First Lego League Robotics (FLL) regional competition last weekend, where they put what they’ve learned to the test in series of challenges against 16 other schools from across the province.
The majority of SMUS participants were Grade 4 and 5 students, with a few Middle School students and one Senior School student.
The competition is much more involved than just building a Lego robot. Judging is based on four different aspects: a research project, their robot design, robot missions and exemplifying the FLL core values.
“This was an after-school club for which they were asked to do a lot of academic school work. It took a lot of discipline and dedication on their part,” says Ms. Maureen Hann, education technology specialist.
The FLL competition theme this year was “Trash Trek”, so the research projects and robot missions all centred around the idea of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and being environmentally friendly.
“Our teams looked at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, recycling batteries, recycling electronics and E-waste, and factors that effect how fast food decomposes. We had four very distinct research areas, which was great, and they all did really well,” Maureen says. “They’re asked to do some research, learn a bit about their topic, then come up with a proposed solution with how this problem could be tackled.”
And while there is a strong academic focus to FLL, the students get so much joy out of building their Lego robots and programming them to complete missions.
“The robot games is what the teams work towards. They’re asked to design their own robot using Lego, and then complete a series of missions and tasks that they have to program their robots to complete. Using motors, touch sensors and colour sensors to achieve these goals, they have to create moving arms and pieces that rotate to pick things up and move things, and it all has to be autonomous,” Maureen says.
After being judged on all four aspects, two of our teams left with trophies and awards (made of Lego, of course). One team placed Second Overall at the competition (earning them a spot in the North American contest in the U.S.) and another team earned the Rising Star award, given to a team that the judges feel was worthy of recognition, but didn’t quite earn enough points to qualify for the next round.
“I’m so proud of all of the students. They did such a good job for their first time competing, and they committed so much time and effort to their robots and their projects,” Maureen says.
In addition, the FLL regional competition also featured many of our Grade 3 students participating in the Junior First Lego League. The Junior league saw our talented students complete a smaller research project and design a model robot with movable parts.
“It’s a precursor to designing movable robots that can complete missions that they’ll do next year, but they did really well, too,” Maureen says.
“The Lego robotics program is a really fun and engaging way of teaching kids those skills, like problem solving and perseverance. It’s interesting to watch them take their robot to the practice tables, try it, have it go wrong and see their minds go ‘What didn’t I do right? We need to make it go a little further so I need to go back to my program and adjust that section of it,'” she adds. “More than anything, though, it gets them learning those skills early in life in a really fun way. Kids love Lego, they have to build, they have to design, it’s hands-on, it’s physical. And it’s been really great for helping them learn a bit about working on a team and being able to put the Lego League core values into practice: teamwork, friendly competition, gracious professionalism, having fun.”
“Thinking back to the robotics tournament last Saturday, I was really quite nervous. We had three presentations and three robot runs. Each mission that the robot did earned us points, but mistakes made us lose some points, too. Our team, Green Machine, came second overall. We are invited to the North American tournament at Legoland in California. I have been to Legoland when the tournament was going on and it was really neat to see it at the time. I never would have thought that I could be participating five years later! I am surprised, amazed and glad that we have this opportunity, and I hope that I can do robotics next year!” – by Eva
“At the Lego Robotics tournament there were 11 teams competing for an invitation to the tournament in California. The tournament was held at St. Margaret’s School. There were four different things you were judged on: core values (gracious professionalism, being nice to other groups, having fun), robot design (how you built your robot), project (what your team studied) and robot missions (points you earned for missions). My favourite part was the robot missions because I liked seeing the robots move by themselves with a push of a button. The club has been meeting up since the start of the year and practicing all these things. My team was really great because we worked really hard and I’m sure the other teams did too. The teams from SMUS did very well and I am going to do robotics again next year.” – by Arjun
“On the weekend, I went to St. Margaret’s School to do a robotics club scrimmage. I was so excited to be there and to be able to show everyone all the hard work my team and I did – we could show people our robot and project. When we were called up to the table to take our first run I was still excited, but I also had butterflies in my stomach. Eva and Alex stepped in, put the robot down and got the first mission (Deliver People) ready. The man who was commentating asked if our team was ready; thumbs up. ‘Ready, set, Lego!’ he said, and we were off to the races. Our robot was perfectly aligned so the mission worked beautifully and the robot came back to home base. Alex set the robot up for our next mission (Compost). She aligned it and pressed start. The robot quickly went off and hit the yellow compost button, but on the way back it started veering to the left more and more. We got a touch penalty, but we still kept going. We did our third mission (Collect Compost). The robot drove off with its new attachment and it went far enough, but the attachment went too far down and completely stopped the robot. We got another touch penalty but we weren’t done yet. It was time for our last mission. I got to do this mission and just like the Collect Compost mission, I made sure the robot was lined up perfectly. I hit the start button and off our robot went. Again, it went straight forward and then started moving side to side. It hit the wall, backed up a bit, and ran into the truck. It was another penalty for us. It wasn’t the best run, but we still have things to work on, which will be fun.” – by Talia
(photos by Gordon Chan)