Young Girls Plus Legos Plus Robot Equals Revolutionary Program
October 29th, 2001 - Filed under: News
by Neika Nix
A team of Tuscaloosa area girls, ages 9-14, is using a robot they have built to accomplish several missions in the Arctic, such as living on ice, building weather towers and escaping from polar bears. Well, hypothetically that is.
The girls are participating in a revolutionary program called FIRST LEGO League (FLL) on the UA campus, in which they design and build a computerized robot to solve real-world problems, under the direction of Dr. Beth Todd, associate professor of mechanical engineering. The team has been named “Bama Babes” by its members.
Todd said she became a coach of the team as a way to encourage young girls to participate in science. “We are trying to interest more girls in science and engineering,” she said. “And seeing these areas as something people get excited about should increase their interest in a technical career.”
FLL focuses on developing creative solutions to problems, as kids discover the rewards of science and technology. The national program is sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) through a partnership with the LEGO Co. The UA team was organized by the University’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
Teams of children are formed at the local level by mentors in education or industry, and team members work together to design and build LEGO robots to meet assigned challenges. They then participate in preliminary and state tournaments, where they are recognized for criteria such as teamwork, problem solving, strategy and leadership. Each tournament participant receives an FLL medallion to commemorate their achievement.
The teams are responsible for all documentation, programming and building of the projects, while guided by their coaches in team building, negotiation and conflict resolution. They also research and prepare a hypothesis presentation, to effectively connect the scientific principles they are studying to robotics.
Each fall a new challenge describing real-world scenarios is issued to teams nationwide, and local teams of up to 10 members then have eight weeks to build a robot with the necessary attributes to accomplish the tasks. The Bama Babes are busy constructing their computer-operated robot using LEGO bricks, sensors, motors and gears.
This season’s challenge relates to real-life situations experienced by researchers while studying global temperature changes in the Arctic, including moving fuel and instruments on ice fields, constructing a weather tower and avoiding polar bears.
Along with Tongsay Vongpaseuth, a mechanical engineering graduate student at UA, Todd helps the girls focus on creative and analytical problem solving. “What this program does is teach them the fundamentals of programming and teamwork. So in some ways, we are teaching the girls what we teach our undergraduates,” explained Todd.
Commenting on her participation in the FIRST LEGO League, Emma Whitaker, a fifth grader, said, “It’s hard, but it’s fun. Every little thing counts.” And perhaps someday, hopes Todd, these experiences will have helped provide a foundation for her future as a science student, researcher or technologist.
The Bama Babes have been invited to compete at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tenn., on Dec. 8 to put their robot to the test against other teams from the Southeast in the “Arctic Impact Challenge.”
For more information or to find out about participating in future FLL teams, contact Todd at 348-1623.
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