On Saturday, December 4, engineering met medicine as the Salt River Elementary School (SRES) 21st Century After-School Program’s Robotics Club participated in the FIRST Lego League “Body Forward” Challenge Western Regional Competition at Supai Elementary School in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event was coordinated by the FIRST Lego League in conjunction with the Arizona State University Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League is a global robotics program designed to build enthusiasm for the basic principles of science, technology, engineering and math in children ages 9 to 14. Team members use these principles to solve-real world problems, and in the process they learn life skills such as respect for others, appreciation of different perspectives, cooperation, perseverance and time management. That helps them gain confidence and discover new skills and interests.
The SRES Robotics Club prepared for the regional competition by learning teamwork, programming, math and engineering. The theme of this year’s competition, “Body Forward,” challenged students with robotics projects that demonstrate how engineering and biological and medical sciences can combine to find solutions to healthcare problems. The students had to focus on solving or improving a medical condition, and the SRES students chose diabetes. So first the students learned all the basic facts about diabetes and how it affects the body. Then they used math skills to program their robot so they could guide it through a course that is meant to represent the human body. They had to get their mathematics correct, because that is what guides the robot to successfully complete the course.
The SRES team received first place in Robot Performance at the competition. The team received a trophy and the students received individual medals.
Students expressed positive feedback about the Robotics Club. “I like that we are learning about diabetes and if you do not take care of yourself by fitness or eating right, that you can have something like your leg amputated,” said fourth-grader Brelon Pahona. “We are doing a graph, we draw and put information about how the cells work.”
“I like it because I get to program the robot to go through the obstacles,” said Brianna Johnson.
The Robotics Club was introduced in September 2010 by the 21st Century After-School Program, headed by Greg Cameron and volunteers Dr. Bill Johnson, Vo Binh and Daniel Brown. The program is a success and has many students on the waiting list.
Inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway and the first insulin pump, founded the FIRST program for high school students as a way to teach engineering skills. FIRST now has many competitions, including the JFLL (Junior FIRST Lego League) and the FLL (FIRST Lego League) for younger students, and the FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) and the FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) for high school students.
“It’s not about winning, we just want to teach them and make learning fun,” said Binh about what the students get out of the program. “The purpose is to gain interest in science, technology, engineering and innovation in a team environment and to have fun. Hopefully this will inspire them to become doctors, scientists and engineers in the future.”