Solve the world’s problems one LEGO® brick at a time

It’s no secret that there is an ongoing need for engineers, scientists, problem-solvers and those who just know how to get the job done.

It’s also widely known that in many countries, children are not performing as they should in math, science and technology – subjects critical to their and our future in this ever-advancing world. We know, for example, that the USA has seen a major drop in math and science skills in school over the past few years. In South Africa, the situation is dire, with a vast majority of school-goers having little math and science skill.

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” – Former President of USA, Barack Obama, March 23, 2015

It’s a situation that needs to be rectified, and that’s exactly what FIRST founder Dean Kamen and LEGO® group owner and deputy chairman Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen set out to do in 1998 when they started FIRST LEGO® League.

Every year, 28 000 teams of students aged 9 to 16 from many countries around the world are given a real-world challenge that they are required to solve using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. The challenge not only helps them develop those important skills, it also gets them involved with others young people, teaching them presentation skills and helping them to learn how to tackle problems constructively.

This year, the teams were briefed to identify a real-world problem surrounding the interaction between humans and animals and then set out to solve it.

The brief describes the process in detail: “They will also build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a set of missions in the Robot Game.  Throughout their experience, teams will operate under the FIRST LEGO® League signature set of Core Values, celebrating discovery, teamwork, and Gracious Professionalism®.”

South Africa is one of 11 countries from the Africa and the Middle East that’s involved with FIRST LEGO® League and currently, regionals for 2016 have just taken place, with the Kiddiwinks Dream Team taking an overall fifth place in the Western Cape regionals on 5 November. Kiddiwinks was also involved in coaching the Forres Preparatory School team #MadScientists.

The Dream Team investigated the threat of American Foulbrood disease on bees in South Africa and proposed a solution that involved exposing the bees to phage therapy that would kill the disease and result in the hives not having to be burned.

Forres’s #MadScientists went local and looked at how to improve the lives of the rabbits at their school by encouraging more interaction from the kids, by planning rosters and moving their pen to a more central location.

Forres Preparatory School Kiddiwinks #MadScientists First LEGO League South Africa

Both teams performed exceptionally well with the Dream Team taking the Robot Programming Award as well as placing third overall, and #MadScientists receiving the Robot Performance Runner-Up Award and Research Presentation Award as well as placing fifth overall.

Both teams are into the FLLSA finals which will take place in Johannesburg later this month. The winner of this national competition will qualify to attend the international FIRST LEGO® League competition.

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Kids get set for FIRST LEGO® League

The study of robotics is making inroads at schools – particularly through LEGO® play. One such school seeing growth in its LEGO® Robotics programme is Forres Preparatory School. So popular is it that the calss has been split into two groups, training on separate days.

One group has been aimed at teaching the ins and outs of programming and building a robot, from the very basic first steps, to more advanced situations like following a line. Excitingly, the other group is now the team that will represent Forres at the FIRST LEGO® League competition in early November.

In the 2016 FIRST LEGO® League Challenge, more than 28 000 teams from over 80 countries will look into the eyes of our Animal Allies, the theme of this year’s competition. The competition is made up of three parts: the Robot Game, the Project, and the Core Values. The teams participate in the Challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game), developing a solution to a problem they have identified (Project), all guided by the FIRST LEGO® League Core Values. Among other things, the Forres team has:

  • researched challenges facing today’s scientists,
  • designed, built, tested and programmed robots using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology,
  • learned to apply real-world math and science concepts,
  • learned critical thinking, team-building, and presentation skills, and
  • learned and practiced gracious professionalism.

firstlegoleague2_600In November the team will compete at the regional competition at the Cape Town Science Centre. From there, 25 teams from around South Africa qualify for the National Competition in Gauteng. The top 2 teams at the national competition then get the opportunity to perform on the international stage.

The competition details are only announced 10 weeks before the competition to ensure that all teams are given equal time to plan. With only an hour-and-a-half training time each week, the kids are putting their all into it. Completing the work needed to compete at the regional level is an achievement in itself.

A version of this article was originally published by Forres Preparatory School.