This fall is fourth and fifth grade STEM class, students are taking part in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) program in conjunction with their Mission to Mars storyline. At first glance, the LEGO League program may look like an opportunity to simply play with LEGOs and miniature robots. What educational benefits could possibly yield from this activity that prepare our students for the future?
Before we discuss some of the advantages of this program, let us first learn a little bit about the FIRST organization and LEGO League. FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." Starting in 1998, the founder of FIRST Dean Kamen and owner of the LEGO group Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen came together to form FLL as a way to engage students in STEM topics at an early age. Each fall, teams of three to ten students gear up to research and help solve real-world problems while also designing and programming robots to complete thematically-related challenges. Competitive teams bring their robot and research to a regional competition where they play against other teams and present their research to a panel of judges.
Why FIRST LEGO League?
Now that we know a bit more about the program, let's discuss the ways that this organization is one of the most impactful STEM programs out there and how it involves a wide variety of students in fun, educational activities.
- FLL engages students in meaningful learning through hands-on, playful activities
Has your student ever asked "Why am I doing this?" when working on a project? In FLL, students take on real-world problems and projects that are currently being tackled by professionals and brainstorm solutions that will have a large impact on their future. In working on their project and robotic designs, students speak to professionals in the field, present their ideas to groups in the community, build and program robots to solve various problems, and create innovative creations out of LEGOs to complete tasks. If you ever visit our STEM class, you will notice the constant buzz of energy that is found all throughout the room during our robotics time. Students are constantly busy, creatively engineering, talking with others, and cheering with excitement when solving a problem!
- It utilizes social emotional learning through the application of FIRST's Core Values
Social emotional learning, similar to STEM, is the new buzzword in education. The reason why this term is getting so much attention is that researchers have discovered that a child's success or failure isn't necessary defined by their cognitive skills. Rather, students are now encouraged to further develop character traits such as grit and perseverance as a way to enhance their successes in the future. Alongside the research and programming, the FIRST program defines itself by its inclusion of their Core Values which are a set of standards each team abides by. These philosophies are not only referenced frequently throughout the program, but are a crucial part of the competition. Teams are required to discuss how they applied their core values throughout their work together and are often observed at the competition as to how their team functions in their ability to communicate, problem solve, and look out for one another. The principles these core values help instill in young children are lifelong traits that will be useful to our students in a variety of contexts.
- It provides our students with necessary 21st century skills
Careers in the STEM fields are growing each year with a significant increase in information technology positions. In exposing children at a younger age to these fields, they are more prepared for future careers that may require STEM skills out of their employees. The FIRST organization also emphasizes the philosophy of Gracious Professionalism, which is a skill that future employers would find advantageous from their employees. Gracious Professionalism encourages healthy competition and working hard while also treating others with respect and kindness. While being determined and driven is important for our young students, teaching them how to do this while also looking out for their teammates is an imperative life skill.
- It's fun for students and keeps them motivated to learn!
Not only is this program educational, but students have a whole lot of fun while doing it! Making learning fun keeps students motivated and instills a love for life-long learning. Students of all types of abilities and different ways of thinking thrive in these programs. FIRST researchers have found that over 88% of students are more interested in doing well in school and 87% have more interest in attending college after participating in one of their programs.
We are excited to take your students through this fun-filled STEM program and hope they glean from it just as much as others have! Please reach out with any questions you may have about LEGO league and other FIRST programs here at Cascades Academy.