I know what many of you are thinking, because it’s probably the same thing that I was thinking when we decided to start FIRST LEGO League for our middle school: “This will be cool, but it may only appeal to a few students.” Prior to some research on FIRST LEGO league, I honestly assumed it would just be building some structures with LEGO kits and some basic programming. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is so much more and truly teaches countless life lessons and provides many long-term benefits for those who choose to participate.
As we began the “season,” having practice several afternoons each week, the students also began to see that this activity would involve so much more than just robotics or playing with LEGOs. Each year, FIRST LEGO League releases a challenge that will ultimately guide the team and its efforts throughout the season. This challenge is a real world problem that the team must address and attempt to solve through a research project. In the past, challenges have dealt with topics such as nanotechnology, climate, human/animal interaction, and the water cycle. This year the challenge was titled INTO ORBIT, and required teams to solve a physical or social problem faced by humans during long term space exploration.
The actual competition is comprised of multiple components that the students/teams will be judged on including their project, robot design, robot programming, core values, and robot game. Each of these components have different scoring rubrics as well as weighting when it comes to a composite or total team score. During competition events every component other than robot game also requires a team interview in front of a panel of judges where they must answer questions and defend their research. These interviews take place in private rooms with only the judges and the students present. At first, as you can imagine, the thought of this was intimidating to our students. However, this was a regular focus of our weekly practice and something the team was able to work on during our Family STEM Night as well.
One of the components of FIRST LEGO League that I found to be a great topic of conversation with our team was the core values. FIRST LEGO League has six core values that include: teamwork, innovation, impact, discovery, inclusion, and fun. The organization also emphasizes that gracious professionalism must be displayed in every action and is the foundation for each of the core values. These core values played a vital role throughout the season and provided opportunities for some great discussion amongst the team on road trips to competitions and at practice. It was amazing at competition to see our students and those of other schools interact with respect and support for each other.
As I reflected upon our first season, I was amazed to see the many benefits that FIRST LEGO League provided for our students who participated. We were fortunate enough to have an incredibly successful first season. The team qualified for Super Regionals, which was a huge accomplishment because many teams at the Regional competition had been competing for many years. They then won first place overall at Super Regionals, which guaranteed us a spot in the State Competition, and they also won the Judges’ Award at State. I was extremely proud of them and Mrs. Hunt for the work that they put in during the season. But success wasn’t the only positive to come from this experience. Every one of the students developed better public speaking skills, problem solved through the engineering design process, learned to work with members of a team and find the areas that best fit their skill set, gained an understanding of how to conduct scientific research, applied research, increased programming skills, and more importantly, each student learned how to respond to adversity. I witnessed several students truly come out of their shell, develop confidence in themselves, make new friends, have success, and find a place to belong. With this in mind, I would challenge our middle school students to give FIRST LEGO League a try, because it really is a lot of fun and is a great opportunity to develop skills that will be beneficial for the rest of their lives.
If you want to find out more information about FIRST LEGO League, you can check it out here.
Cory Martin is a 2003 graduate of Calvary Day School and is the Middle School Principal. For Mr. Martin, the best aspect of his position is the opportunity to build relationships with students all the while helping each student reach their academic goals.
Calvary Day School offers a Christ-centered educational experience for grades Pre-K – 12 through the development of the total student- spiritually, academically, socially, and physically. We provide the best, most affordable private education in Savannah, Georgia.