Students from throughout Southern California converged on the Ramona Community School campus for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League (FLL) practice tournament on Saturday.
FLL is a global program created to get students excited about science and technology. Using theme-based challenges, youngsters take part in research, problem solving, and engineering.
“FLL is the result of a partnership between FIRST and The LEGO Group,” said Beth Downing with LEGOLAND. “In 1998, FIRST Founder Dean Kamen and The LEGO Group’s Kjeld Kirk Kristiensen joined forces to create FIRST LEGO League (FLL), a powerful program that engages younger children in playful and meaningful learning while helping them to discover the fun in science and technology. So far, FLL has reached more than 135,000 kids in 45 countries around the globe.”
There are three age groups covered under the umbrella of RCS Robotics, said FLL adviser Michelle Cassan: the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for high school students, FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for those 9-14, and Junior FIRST LEGO League for the 6- to 9-year-olds.
The event is being hosted and judged by the high school students.
“The FRC group do not have their robots yet,” said high school coordinator Pete Casalegno, a teacher at Ramona Community School. “The FRC starts building their robot around the first part of January for their competition that will be held in March.”
According to representatives from the the robotics groups, each year FLL works with experts in the field to create a challenge that relates to a significant real-world issue. The end result is a two-part challenge that requires research to complete a given real-world issue project and science and engineering to master the complex missions of the robot game.
In the robot game, the students are given a set number of tasks to program into the robot, which will be placed on a playing field about the size of a ping-pong table. Tasks are set up on the playing field for the robots to complete.
The challenge theme for the 2008 season is Climate Connections — Building a Global Game Plan. Students are tasked with developing a presentation regarding “an exploration of the Earth’s climate.” Participants have been studying to discover the links among science, people, resources and communities.
FLL and Junior FLL teams are tasked with creating a global game plan for future generations.
“This is a good experience for the older students in the FRC to watch and see what is going on during the competition,” said Pete Casalegno. “The FRC is hosting the event. They have planned out the food, flow of the practice tournament and to ensure the judging is done correctly. The older students will get an idea through their hands-on judging of the younger groups of what will be expected of them when they compete later in the year.”
The robotics program introduces students to programming and mechanics, and it provides the opportunity for high school students to be positive role models for the younger teams.
The event in Ramona on Saturday offered a place for any FLL team in Southern California to celebrate accomplishments and present projects to a panel of judges. Teams received points based on teamwork, robot design and programming, and multiple rounds of a robot game.
“The practice was put together because there is a qualifying tournament at the Preuss School (UCSD) on Nov. 22,” said Cassan. “If the teams qualify, they get to go to the championship tournament at LEGO Land in December.”
A global tournament will be held in Atlanta, Ga., in spring 2009.
The Robo Rats from Ramona Community School earned third place, with Chula Vista’s Coyote Bots placing first.
Each annual challenge has two parts, the project and the robot game. Working in teams of up to 10 students and guided by at least one adult coach, team members have about 10 weeks to:
• Build an autonomous robot that will, in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, complete pre-designed missions;
• Analyze, research, and invent a solution for a given assignment; and
• Create a clever presentation about their solution to perform in front of a panel of judges.
Guided by a team coach and assisted by mentors, the students research and solve a real-world problem based on the challenge theme, present their research and solutions, and build an autonomous robot using engineering concepts.
Using the annual challenges, FLL entices students to think like scientists and engineers, teaching them to experiment and overcome obstacles and inspiring them to participate in science and technology.