FIRST LEGO League Faces “Nature’s Fury”

Fun activities are a great way to educate kids about potentially scary topics like natural disasters. That’s why Ready Georgia offers a variety of tools to help parents and teachers talk to children about the steps they can take to prepare for emergencies.

LEGO kids

Thanks to the FIRST LEGO League (FLL), this year children ages 9 to 14 had another fun way to learn about emergency preparedness and dive into the exciting world of science and technology. Through the League, student teams participated in regional, state and national competitions building innovative solutions to real-life problems through LEGO robotics. The 2013-14 theme for the competition was “Nature’s Fury,” challenging students to master natural disasters. Participants explored the effects of tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters, identifying where these events can occur and formulating a way to prepare, stay safe or rebuild.

Ready Georgia recently spoke with Steven Nelson, science and operations officer of the National Weather Service and coach of a participating team in First LEGO League regional and super regionals competitions. Read on for Nelson’s experience in the League.

RG: When did you first get involved with the FIRST LEGO League?

In August 2013, I volunteered to coach a team in the League consisting of 4th and 5th grade students from Kedron Elementary in Peachtree City. At this point in my life, I had not committed to something like this but decided to venture into the unknown. We were the not only first team to participate in the robotics competition from our school, but for all elementary schools in Fayette County as well.

RG:  Can you tell us what the competition entailed?

Each annual challenge revolves around a real-world, scientific problem. This year’s challenge was “Nature’s Fury.” Each team defines a problem related to a natural disaster, such as how to keep people safe during a storm, and uses STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) principles to research a solution to that problem. The most unique aspect of the challenge is the design and programming an autonomous robot, built from a special kit comprised entirely of LEGO pieces, motors and sensors to score as many points as possible on a themed playing field for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  It was a lot of fun, not just for the kids, but for me as well!

RG: What was your team’s name?

Our team name for the completion was the “Kedron Purple Princesses” and it consisted of 10 very motivated 5th grade girls. And before you ask, no, I did not wear a tiara.

RG: What did the “Kedron Purple Princesses” choose as their project for the challenge and what did they do to prepare for it?

In preparation for the competition, the team met after school three times a week for three months prior to the first competition. The girls researched natural disasters, came up with multiple project ideas, then built and tested robots. They ultimately decided to tackle the problem of keeping people safe during blizzards and named their robot “Frostbiter.”

During the team’s research, the students interviewed Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s public affairs officer, Lisa Janak Newman, on how to stay safe in blizzards.  For instance, she informed us that most residents of Georgia do not have a safety kit in their vehicles to be better prepared for winter storms.

RG: Can you provide us with a first-hand view of what your team experienced during the competitions?

In November, we traveled to Columbus State University for our first regional competition. The robot competition was a blast and everyone enjoyed watching the other teams compete. Judges also asked the teams to make a short presentation on the FLL core values, the technical aspects of the robot and programming and a project presentation in which they show their problem and solution. The team won a trophy in the programming category.  When all the points were added, we placed high enough at the regional level to qualify for the super regional competition in January.  While we did not place high enough to advance to the state competition, the girls walked away with the grand prize: a better appreciation and understanding of natural disasters and the knowledge that with hard work, fairness and cooperation, any challenge can be overcome.

RG: Do you have any advice to share with other teams that may participate in future competitions?

Definitely get involved. Let the kids experiment and make mistakes. Encourage discussion of why things work and don’t work.  While being recognized for doing well and succeeding at competitions is great, the kids need to be encouraged at all stages of the effort, and above all, let them have fun!