The future lies with the next generation of children. Everything we can do to invest in their education and success in life, is a wise move. We’ll look at little known fun ways to teach science, robotics and technology to kids and teens.
While there are, and always have been many programs targeted to kids and teens who play sports, there has been a huge lack available to youth who have other interests, especially ones drawn to technology. They are smart and many times struggle to find their niche.
It’s refreshing to see some programs out there that offer so much to kids who may not enjoy sports, or simply have other interests as well. The educational programs we’ll be looking at today can be used by kids and teens enrolled in different types of schools, including those who are homeschooled.
Educational Program Teaches Science and Technology
The FIRST program’s acronym means, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”. It was founded in 1992 in New Hampshire originally, and is a non-profit organization. It is supported by over 3,500 corporations and businesses and more than 90,000 volunteers.
Their vision statement reads, “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”
The mission statement is, “Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
They have many programs available which we’ll outline here (including a robotics competition). Children as young as 6 years old, up to high school graduation can participate. FIRST is available in much of the United States and Canada. In areas that they don’t exist, new chapters can be started up.
Different Programs Offered by FIRST
- FIRST Junior Lego league are for kids ages 6-9 to design and build robots out of Lego parts. They begin to develop math and science problem solving and life skills, and participate in events and other team activities.
- FIRST Lego League for ages 9-14 in the United States and Canada. At this program level students design, build, strategize and test a robot using Lego MINDSTORMS technology. They continue building upon the knowledge they learned in the junior Lego league and expand more with time management skills, cooperation and working as a team member, math and science concepts. At this level, they may choose to participate in tournaments and some may qualify for an invitation to the world festival.
- FIRST Tech Challenge is for High School aged students. Teams of up to 10 students compete using a robot sports model medium. As a team, they design, build and program a robot to compete with an alliance of two other teams against another alliance of 3 teams. Teens learn advanced skills in real-world type situations, and have the chance to win awards, scholarships and a place in the world championship competition.
- FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is also for high school students. This program is commonly nicknamed a “varsity sport for the mind.” With a set of strict criteria, students work in teams of 25 or more students to raise funds, develop a ‘brand’, build and design a robot to compete against other robots on a field game. This level is known to be as close to real life engineering that the program offers. Professional mentors and other volunteers help students. The high school students learn advanced and sophisticated hardware and software skills, and other critical skills for future careers. Students of this program can also earn scholarships and a place in the world championship.
The robot competition game is called Logomotion. It’s played on an indoor 27X54 foot indoor field. 3 teams of students form an alliance, and one alliance plays against another alliance. There are 4 scoring pegs inside the middle of the field.
Inflated tubes called ‘uber tubes’ come in triangle, square and circle shapes in red, white and blue. Each alliance enters 3 robots on to the field, and the students control the robots through remote control, to get the uber tubes onto scoring racks to create the FIRST logo.
Smaller bots are used on the field as well to release mini-bots which climbs to the top of a scoring peg inside the field. The first team to get their mini-bot to the top gets 30 bonus points. The second team gets 20 bonus points, 3rd team gets 15, and the 4th team gets 10 points.
Referees oversee the competition and judges give awards to the teams for technology, design, sportsmanship and commitment to FIRST principals. They have a strong commitment to treating others with respect, kindness, and good sportsmanship values. They abhor treating anyone like they are a loser.
It was a delight to attend one of these Logomotion games recently. The energy and excitement in the stadium matched any sporting event I’ve attended. Many teams were dressed in their branding designs, which were fun and creative. There was the ‘pit area’ where last minute details and repairs were being tended to. There were mascots, cheering fans, loud music, and great fun. There were many college booths in attendance at the event as well. Check out this video clip to see a game at the end of this post.
How Can I Start A FIRST Program in My Area?
Some areas do not have a FIRST program going. Go to the national FIRST website to see if you can find an existing program in your area. Some 4-H clubs are incorporating with FIRST programs as well. If none exist, and you either want to get your child involved, or want to be a volunteer to help teens and kids in this capacity, you may need to start a chapter in your area.
Do a search in your state for the FRC website. Contact them and let them know you would like to start a chapter. Let them serve as a guide to get you connected with others in your state, and walk you through the start up process.
There are scholarships available as well to help FIRST students. See the national website for details.
Brandeis University recently did a study of the impact that the FIRST program had on students’ lives who participated in the robotics competition levels. It compared to students who did not participate in this program, yet had similar academic experiences and backgrounds. These were the results:
- More than 3 times as likely to major in engineering as a career.
- About 10 times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year.
- Significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post graduate degree.
- More than twice as likely to pursue a career in science or technology fields.
- More than twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.
Watch the video clip below of younger elementary aged students participating in a Lego league. Contact your local chapter or their home page, if you would like to volunteer or get your kids involved.
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What a fun, and inspiring way to teach science robotics and technology to kids and teens. Feel free to share this with other parents you know.
Until next time,
This is the Lego Mindstorms set used