For a few hours each morning this summer, a group of students from Orange’s elementary schools gather in a boardroom, get down on the floor and try to solve real world problems. These students are attending FIRST LEGO League, a program that uses STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to help students solve real world problems using LEGO robots.
The students build the robots out of LEGOs and then, using LEGO Mindstorms technology, program them to do a multitude of tasks. Jennifer Acker, a fifth grade teacher at Turkey Hill School is leading the program and is encouraged to see girls, as well as boys, participating. She explains, “This summer, we are focusing on simple machines (levers, pulleys, scales, etc.) as well as where energy comes from. We are talking about renewable energy and taking our simple machines to the next level – turning them into wind turbines, solar panels, etc. They are also programming their robots to clean up trash!”
The students, from all three town elementary schools, built an obstacle course that the robot drives on that mimics problems and challenges found in our own environment. “For example, the robot uses a composting machine to turn biodegradable trash into compost pellets. It also cleans up trash from the ‘ocean’ and places marine life back in their homes. The students really have so much fun and it shows them how they can make a difference at a young age. These are also great exercises in team work- everything they do is with a small group or with a partner and problem solving is key,” Acker said.
Superintendent Vince Scarpetti said that through the program, students are introduced to LEGO Mindstorm technology and taught how to use the EV3 robots they would be working with throughout the program.
Through a Google Classroom, students relied on outside resources pertaining to several engineering and physics topics including renewable energy. Using the EV3 Robots, simple machines/pulleys, and principles about energy, the students built courses that represent the real world.
“One group of students has programmed the bots to play soccer!” Scarpetti said. “Programming enabled the robots to locate a ball on the “field” (BOE wood floor) and move it around a defender into a goal. Scratch, a simple computer language developed by MIT to teach children how to program, will help our young engineers to maneuver the robots around challenging LEGO obstacle courses each week through August 4.
“This summer learning will prepare Orange students to develop skills that will enable them to compete in state and national tournaments during the school year,” he said.
During the competitions, which Acker hopes some of the students she worked with in the summer program will participate in, teams of students in grades 4-8 research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, program a robot using LEGO Mindstorms, then compete on a table-top playing field.
Along their discovery journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, basic STEM applications, and even presentation skills, as they must present their solutions with a dash of creativity to judges. “This camp offers a great exposure to the program,” Acker said. This fall’s competition will focus on animals.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent