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As if it wasn’t impressive enough to build and program a functioning android – with the help of Lego Mindstorms – the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) gets kids involved in science, technology, teamwork, and helping their local community. What don’t they learn from these robots?
In a nutshell, the FLL is a league for amateur robot-builders – teams of nine-to-16-year-olds, with an adult supervisor – to use their ingenuity and logic to compete in a series of challenges. The kids aren’t only taught basic programming and mechanics; whilst the FIRST in FLL does stand for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’, the most recent State Championship Tournament in Arizona saw them working on nanotechnology, climate, and transportation, but also quality of life for people with disabilities.
For example: one group’s – all girls – preparation included studying basic calculus for the programming and working on small-scale vehicles, but they also interviewed a (full-size) 100-year-old woman about how they could improve her quality of life, then designed a specialized chair to help her get up and travel over bumpy terrain.
All this is guided by the FLL Core Values, which are courtesy, teamwork (teams share spare parts), helpfulness, and fun. When themes for the challenges also give kids ideas about future careers, whether they’re STEM-centric or otherwise – organisations like the FLL open up a world of future possibility for kids, teach them some good values, and also lets them make some pretty awesome robots.
By Star Lawrence
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I've been running Lego robotics laboratories from 2005 and found a huge increase in children critical thinking abilities, collaboration and creativity.
It's needless to say the learn how to imagine something on their own, design the project with peers, build and program the robot, then share, test and reflect upon pros and cons, raising thoughtful debates about improving the work done. While having fun !
The latest version of Lego Mindstorms set has just been released and will appear in markets not later than next June 2013.
The cornerstone of Lego approach is nailed in Papert's masterpiece:
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An obvious but important point is that it isn't the Mindstorms kit that does the teaching!
In the hands of a good teacher Mindstorms and in particular the FLL can be really powerful and provide a lot of way to help children bring abstract thinking into solid and 'real' outcomes.
Lego is great at being non judgemental and allowing for a wide variety of outcomes - good teachers do the same. Equally important is the need to allow learners to make their own mistakes.
The step by step approach to some models can be limiting but I prefer to see this as 'scaffolding' that leads to significant early success - from there the sky is the limit BUT the good teacher will want to ensure that students progress and this implies being clear about what the teacher wants the learning outcomes to be (whilst allowing scope to recognise unexpected outcomes).
As suggested by Roberto the learning outcomes could be many and varied - indeed almost anything. The Mindstorms kit allows pupils to work purposefully and on concrete artefacts whilst developing abstract thinking.
Conversely I've worked at many FLL meetings where the work has clearly been strongly directed by the teacher robbing the children of the chance to learn very much at all.