For many Sigma Kappa sisters, August is the month to start prepping their kids for a new school year. For me, it’s time to start gearing up for FIRST Lego League. Having majored in engineering at a school known for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), I’m very interested in encouraging young people to explore science and technology, while fostering other life skills, like teamwork, communication and leadership.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” It’s a series of robotics programs for kids ages 6-18 that was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen — the guy who invented the Segway. Over the last 20 years, the program has become popular not just in the United States, but over 50 other countries around the world! The vision statement for the program is:

“To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

The program I’m most involved in is FIRST Lego League (FLL), which is for children ages 9-14. The other one I’d like to start participating in this year is Jr. FLL, which is for elementary school kids, ages 6-9. Both programs feature a real-world challenge, which the kids help to solve through research, critical thinking and imagination.

When I learned about FLL early last summer, I jumped in with both feet, volunteering as a both an FLL coach/mentor and as a judge at two regional tournaments. My FLL team was small — only four 11-year-old girls — but enthusiastic. The girls named their team Persevering Minds, invented a team handshake, researched food safety at the mall food court, and built a robot (which they decided was also a girl, since the team was all about girl power). At their regional tournament, they didn’t win, but they demonstrated great teamwork as they stuck to their FLL core values, displaying Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® at all times.

For 2012, both FLL and Jr. FLL will focus on improving quality of life for senior citizens, a subject that is near and dear to me due to our Sigma Kappa philanthropies of gerontology and Alzheimer’s disease (from which my mom suffered). The junior teams will learn about simple machines as they build a model made of LEGO® elements with a motorized moving part and create a team “Show Me Poster” to represent their research findings. The bigger kids (ages 9-14) will explore the topic of aging and how it may affect a person’s ability to maintain his or her lifestyle. Teams will research obstacles and then suggest ways to improve the quality of life for the seniors affected. Teams will also build, test and program a LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot to navigate a set of missions on an obstacle course.

If you’re a parent, and you think your child might be interested in participating in FIRST Lego League, the best places to start looking for information about starting a team (or joining an existing team) are Google and/or the FIRST website for your state or country. If you’re not a parent, but would be interested in volunteering as a coach, mentor, judge, etc., you can sign up (in the U.S.) using the Volunteer Information & Matching System. If you don’t have time to volunteer, but you’d like to donate or sponsor a team, that would be great too!

It’s never too late to get kids started in STEM. So as we say in FLL, 3… 2… 1… LEGO!


3 Responses to Legos and Robots and STEM, Oh My!

  1. Anne says:

    How cool! I so have to look into this for my daughter…she lives Legos and creating things! Thanks for the info!

  2. Christine says:

    my son did this in Virginia & loved it. we also didn’t place, but he learned a lot & had fun.

  3. […] that one this month’s themes is National Volunteer Month. Since I wrote a post in August about FIRST Robotics, which is one of my volunteering passions, I decided I would exploit technology (i.e., Google) to […]

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