January 19, 2010
Robotics Competition at APL Gives Kids a Taste of Technical Problem-Solving
APL, the Baltimore Chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) jointly sponsored a qualifying robotics competition for 9-14 year olds on January 9th in the Kossiakoff Center on APL's Laurel, MD, campus.
In the day-long competition, known as FIRST Lego League, teams used Lego Mindstorms robotics kits to:
- Design, build, and program robots;
- Apply real-world math and science concepts;
- Research challenges facing today's scientists;
- Learn critical thinking, team-building, and presentation skills; and
- Participate in tournaments and celebrations.
The competition is designed to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists and give them the opportunity to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Kids are exposed to science, technology, and engineering through a forum that allows for fun, learning, team building, and "CoopertitionTM" (a hybrid of cooperation and competition).
Founded in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST (http://www.usfirst.org/) works to increase self-confidence, knowledge, leadership skills, and life skills in today's young people while encouraging them to pursue educational opportunities and careers in STEM fields. This year, about 145,000 elementary and middle school students worldwide will compete in approximately 475 qualifying FIRST tournaments (APL's robotics challenge was one of them), leading to a world championship in Atlanta, GA, this spring.
Nearly 40 APL staff members and another dozen or so volunteers from local organizations, recruited by Duncan Brown of APL's National Security Analysis Department, joined the more than 90,000 volunteers throughout the country who support this critical education effort. The volunteers served as judges and referees, helped with setup and registration, guided teams throughout the day, and pitched in wherever needed.
The event was a smashing success, as evidenced by the following remarks from participants:
"Many of our team members said they had, ‘the best day of their lives.'"
"I have been a participant (coach/mentor, judge) when I was a middle school teacher for 8 years. Out of all the events I have ever attended, APL's event was the best. You did a fantastic job! Your staff and judges were fantastic. Everybody was in a super mood to collaborate ideas and learn how others went about solving problems by programming and building their NXT robots. Everyone had a smile on their face, and it lasted all day!
Event organizer Brown noted that the event "completely met our metrics for success. There were a lot of smiling faces on kids who may go on to be mathematicians, engineers, or scientists someday. We received a lot of compliments about the quality of the event and our volunteers, and this type of event is exactly the kind of thing that JHU and APL should be sponsoring."