Robot-Building Enhances Math and Science Skills

Recently, middle school students across the country formed teams and built programmable, interactive robots that they entered into task-driven competitions. The robots could maneuver through obstacle courses and even retrieve specific objects. Sound like science fiction? Well, it's definitely science...and math and technology, too.

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robot building competition STEM

Meeting of the Minds

Begun in 1998 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen and Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen of LEGO Group, manufacturer of LEGO block toys, the FIRST Lego League (FLL) Competition (not the first, the FIRST, which is an acronym: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is heralded for building more than robots.

The competition, which is open to kids between the ages of nine and 14, builds critical thinking and analytical skills, encourages teamwork and supplies students with the opportunity to apply math and science concepts in a real-world situation.

'I think it really brings out the science, technology, engineering and math skills,' Dennis Greenwood, a technology education teacher from Clemmons Middle School in North Carolina, told the Winston-Salem Journal in November 2011.

Fun and Exciting

Perhaps what's best about the LEGO Competition is that it's fun and challenging. Math and science might be boring to some students in the classroom, but building and programming robots can surely erase that boredom.

The Competition begins every September and reaches 55 countries around the world. More than 200,000 students participate in the event. Community teams as well as school teams can enter the competition. Teams are judged in three areas: completion of what are called 'Challenge' missions, teamwork and robotic design.

As the FLL website boasts: 'What FLL teams accomplish is nothing short of amazing. It's fun. It's exciting. And the skills they learn will last a lifetime.'

An Impact on the Future

A survey by Brandeis University's Center for Youth and Communities found that middle school students who participate in the robotics competition are definitely influenced by the experience.

The survey found that 89% of participants went on to college after high school. They were more likely to major in engineering, pursue careers in science or technology, and participate in science or technology-related internships or apprenticeships. More than half reported taking at least one engineering course.

In addition, they are more than twice as likely to volunteer in community programs and more likely to obtain a post-graduate degree.

It would seem, judging by these survey results, that FLL was not merely boasting when it said that the skills students learn in the robotic competitions will last them a lifetime.

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