In mid-September, 21 experts and 29 FIRST LEGO® League teams got together in the Zoo Plex at the Blank Park Zoo to talk share knowledge and make connections for the annual FIRST LEGO® League season.
The season brings teams together to research and come up with a solution to a real-world problem and build an autonomous robot. This year, the theme is “Animal Allies.”
At the Meet the Experts event, teams were encouraged to delve into the challenge theme by talking with topical experts. They were given free admission into the zoo to walk around and come up with ideas for their research if they had not already thought of one. The experts who were present could also help them develop a concrete idea from a simple thought.
“The main focus of the event is to give the teams a network of professionals they can interact with,” Schroeder said. “One of the requirements of FIRST LEGO® League is that the students are engaging with professionals in the area of their research.”
Students from FIRST LEGO® League (ages 9-14) and FIRST LEGO® League Jr. (ages 6-10) were invited. Schroeder adds it was important to include all ages because having children learn how to ask for advice and learn in a professional field will help them advance in their career skills for the future.
“Would we love it if every child learned how to program and did their authentic research and became jazzed about being an engineer at the end of the season? Absolutely,” Schroeder said. “That’d be perfect. But if a child overcomes an inability to ask someone questions and gets enough self-confidence to show they want to learn, that’s a success, too.”
The teams said they enjoyed being in the zoo and many were able to narrow down their ideas for their research projects. But the experts also took away something from the event.
“Our experts were amazed at the caliber of youth and their excellent questions,” Schroeder said. “I had an expert who told me he has no fear of the future in the hands of these teams because the kids were so bright, curious and really invested in solving real-world problems.”
Now that the teams have developed their ideas, they can begin their research and designing their robots for tournament events across the state. LEGO® provides the products to build the robot, and the students have a four-foot by eight-foot playing field set up with different challenges.
In November and December, the teams will present their research and innovative solution at local, statewide events, running their robots through the challenges while talking with judges about their robot design, programing and team core values.
The best overall teams will qualify to advance to the state championship in January, which will be held on Iowa State’s campus.
“This is the 15th year of the College of Engineering at Iowa State leading FIRST LEGO® League, and it continues to be a great program for everyone involved,” Schroeder said.