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The 14th FIRST Lego League

The 14th FIRST Lego League

I spent the majority of my Thursday last week playing with Lego in a professional capacity. Considering that this is the dream for most Civil Engineers I know, I thought I’d share my day refereeing for the FIRST Lego League (or FLL for the abbreviated) with you all.

I doubt I was the only engineer there who would have easily given up all their accolades for one of those trophies made of Lego.

When it comes down to it, the FLL is a robotics competition for teams of school students using the Lego Mindstorm kits. Don’t let the ‘Final Fantasy-esq’ title miss-lead you; it’s actually the 14th FLL since its inception, with every annual iteration bring a new ‘theme’ to the proceedings. This year’s was “Senior Solutions”, and included such dubious links such as making the robots ‘climb stairs’ and ‘bowl’ (you know, like old people do…).

The Senior Solutions Board

The Senior Solutions Board

The competition is split in to three, equally weighted, segments. The first being the design of a robot, and it’s performance in a series of matches to complete tasks. The second is an invention that addresses a problem posed by the theme; an aspect that has won groups patents over the years. The final segment is ‘core values’ which consist of a series of trademarked buzzwords (including a hideous portmanteau of cooperation and competition), which ultimately transcribe into not beating up the other teams.

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It’s typically used within education to identify the technical subjects, which are often sought after by employees, but unfortunately harder to engage students with.

As a referee I spent most of my time on the match tables; scoring the teams on the number of tasks they managed to complete and enforcing the rules (which are lessons in precision cheating if ever I saw any). As you would expect, the combination of working with students, and playing with Lego, was ultimately rewarding. Although the teams that did well were fun and impressive to watch, I found it was the worst performers were the most engaging.

I refereed a team across three rounds (spread along the day) of very young competitors. Their game plan was clearly to pick a task and design and practice to compete and score on it. The first two rounds were a tense two and a half minutes of the robot almost, but not quite, managing to navigate to the task. In the final round they managed to get their robot to the base of the task in the last minute; and if films had taught me anything it was that this was when everything would start to go well for them. It’s possible I was more heartbroken then they were when it didn’t manage the task.

At the end the trophies were handed out, under a number of headlines- and I was glad to see the aforementioned team win a sportsmanship award. I doubt I was the only engineer there who would have easily given up all their accolades for one of those trophies made of Lego. We didn’t get any of the ‘veteran’ high-scorers; but If you want to see the sharp end of the international competition, you can check this out:

It seems only fair that I end this week’s post by pointing out that you, too, can be a STEM Ambassador and play with Lego in the name of ‘Promoting Engineering’.

If you, too, want to be a STEM Ambassador, all you have to do is sign-up here.

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