On December 7, the Iowa Lakes Community College Estherville campus will be full of noise, enthusiasm, anticipation – and learning – as they host 17 teams comprised of area youth in the FIRST® LEGO® League Regional Qualifying Competition. FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) is an international program, created by FIRST® and LEGO®, designed to get children interested in and excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subject areas. This will be the second year in a row that Iowa Lakes hosts the Regional Qualifying Competition.
Each year, FIRST® releases a new challenge that engages the teams in hands-on robotics design and scientific research. The theme for the challenge is different each year, allowing teams to learn about a variety of subjects. This year, teams will apply research and robotics to explore natural disasters with FIRST® LEGO® League “Nature’s Fury” Challenge. To successfully complete the Challenge, teams of young people must build and program a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robot to complete missions on a thematic playing surface and conduct research to discover what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work and play.
Each Challenge has three parts: the Robot Game, the Project, and the FLL Core Values. Teams of up to 10 children, with one adult coach, 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 FLL Core Values.
Past Challenges have been based on topics such as quality of life for seniors, nanotechnology, climate, quality of life for the handicapped population, and transportation. By designing the Challenges around such topics, participants are exposed to potential career paths within a chosen Challenge topic, in addition to solidifying the STEM principles that naturally come from participating in a robotics program. Team members also learn valuable life and employment skills which will benefit them no matter which career path they choose.
Participants, ages 9-14, form teams of 2-10 members. Teams can form from any group: school, scouts, religious organizations, home school groups or even groups of friends. After the challenge has been released, teams have about three months to design, program and build their robot, and prepare an in-depth research presentation related to the challenge theme. The LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robotics kit is used to build a robot capable of completing tasks autonomously on the playing field. Team members can use any LEGO® parts to build the robot – including parts they already own.
Each team’s hard work culminates in one day, high-energy, sports-like tournaments. During the tournaments, teams have three rounds on the competition tables to get the best score possible. When not competing with their robots, teams give their research presentations, and are interviewed about the technical design of their robots and how they work as teams. Regional qualifiers may advance to the Championship event at Iowa State University in January. The winners of the Champion’s Award, the most prestigious award, may be eligible to participate in a variety of post-season tournament opportunities both domestic and abroad.
The day is free and spectators are encouraged to attend and watch all of the activities. The event starts at 9:10 a.m. and ends at approximately 2:30 p.m.
For more information on Iowa Lakes Community College, and the Northwest Iowa STEM Hub, visit www.iowalakes.edu.
Students participate in the FIRST® LEGO® League event last year.