ST. GEORGE – Hundreds of Southern Utah students converged on the Dixie State University Gardner Center Saturday to compete in the DSU qualifying round of the Utah First Lego League’s Lego robotics competition.
One of several qualifying rounds throughout the state, the tournament – held in the past at Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School – was moved to the DSU campus for 2015, a change that DSU President Richard Williams told competitors he hopes will inspire and attract future DSU students.
“Dixie State University wanted to bring the kids here so they have the experience of being on a university campus,” Dolores Heaton, volunteer tournament director, said, “because the purpose of this program is to get them into college and into these science and technology fields.”
An international program, First Lego League is designed to introduce young people, ages 9 to 14, to science and technology in a way that is fun and exciting. The acronym “First” in the league’s name stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” Heaton said.
Students in the competition began preparing as early as August and September, creating their teams and then building and programming autonomous robots to compete on a playing field by completing tasks, which, in turn, garners the teams points.
“They have two-and-a-half minutes for their robot to accrue as many points as possible,” Heaton said. “They can choose which missions their robot will complete and they have two-and-a-half minutes to do the best they can.”
In addition to the robot playing field, each team is also scored in three areas by judges who are professionals in a related field, Heaton said.
The judging criteria are as follows:
- Robot design
- Adherence to First Lego League core values
- Innovation project
This year’s innovation project carried the theme “World Class,” and students were tasked to explore an idea in the classroom and identify how they could improve classroom learning using innovative ideas, Heaton said.
The First Lego League is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program but reaches beyond scientific-based learning by teaching valuable critical thinking and teamwork skills.
“They are learning engineering,” Blake Wheeler, volunteer coach for Team Lego All Stars, said. “They are learning teamwork, how to work together to accomplish something.”
Wheeler said the open format teaches students to solve real-world problems by giving them complex items and then letting them figure out how to put those items together to build and design the robot. These skills will be valuable in engineering fields or any field a student wants to go into, he said.
“I would highly recommend it,” Wheeler said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of patience, but there is a lot of rewards and stuff for the kids and for yourself once it’s all done.”
The state championship will be held Jan. 31 at the University of Utah.
This year’s competition also featured a pilot program for junior builders ages 6 to 9.
The junior First Lego League is an introduction to the program, allowing students to explore computers and robotics, come up with a project, and research and create their own designs, Nate Friedman, director of youth education at the University of Utah, said.
Students in the junior competition had to research a learning tool that is used in their classrooms and then present it at the competition, Friedman said.
Three junior competitions were held throughout Utah this season, he said. By next year, he added, up to 16 competitions will be offered.
“They have been doing great. Their ideas are so creative and clever,” Friedman said. “It is fun to watch what they can come up with.”
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