Robotics competition teaches STEM skills, teamwork
HUNTINGTON — Dozens of aspiring scientists and little Lego enthusiasts showed their smarts Saturday at the FIRST Lego League robotics state qualifying competition at the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington.
FIRST Lego League teams build a robot using a Lego Mindstorms kit as they work to research and solve a real-world problem in a challenge that is set each year. This year’s 30th season challenge was “INTO ORBIT,” where the teams explored the challenges of human space travel. RCBI, in coordination with the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, has put on the state-level qualifying competition for five years.
Around 50 kids on seven teams showed off their robots Saturday. The Putnam Pink Ladies, Clover STEMs and the Montcalm Robotics Team will all go on to compete at the state
competition Dec. 1 at Fairmont State University. The Clover STEMs also won an award for robot design, and the Montcalm Robotics Club won the core values award.
The Putnam Pink Ladies were the overall champions of the competition. Last year, the all-girl team, based in Hurricane, won the state competition and was the only West Virginia team that went on to compete in the national competition in California.
Deacon Stone, STEM coordinator at RCBI, said the program acts as a pipeline for children to STEM-related fields where they not only are introduced to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, but they also develop acumen, ability and experience through working through the challenges and building the robots.
“Where the rubber meets the road, these kids are building traction in STEM fields,” Stone said. “They’re learning all the things you think of — that is, robotics and mechanics, the way parts fit together, software, coding, the way things behave and can be taught to behave. They’re learning how they can respond to the environment through sensors they attach to it. They’re learning to overcome challenges through project-based and problem-based learning.”
Stone said even though the children are getting a hands-on experience and learning new critical thinking skills, that is not the most important or valuable part of working on the challenges.
“The most important part of what they learn is to work as a team together through periods of difficulty and how to come together, coordinate, manage a project and manage a schedule,” Stone said.
Stone said RCBI has received support from the NASA space grant consortium to purchase robotics kits for teams who are interested in forming, becoming a team, registering with FIRST Lego League and competing. RCBI presents FIRST Lego League to area schools and community centers as an option, and if there is interest in a team forming, RCBI can help with the cost. Stone said RCBI is looking forward to growing this effort in the future.