Building Futures Through LEGOs
On Feb. 10, approximately 400 middle schoolers from schools in Southeastern Pennsylvania gathered around field models in Houston Hall to watch robots they had built out of LEGOs simulate collecting rain water, helping flowers grow, and putting out fires.
The students were participating in the regional FIRST LEGO League (FLL) tournament. FLL, a middle school robotics program that introduces students to concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), has students work in teams to design and build robots to complete tasks and a research project related to a particular theme. This year’s theme is water.
Each team consists of around 10 middle school students who work with coaches to complete a research project, build a robot, and put together their own field models that their robots will interact with. They start out by participating in a qualifier, and the winning teams go on to compete in the regional tournament, which is held at Penn, and the world championship, which will be in Detroit this year.
Every year, Penn’s GRASP Lab pays for the cost of registration for 45 public schools in Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden, N.J. It also recruits Penn students and other volunteers to mentor the students, judge or referee the competition, or help in other ways.
“When a Penn student is mentoring one of our Philadelphia public school teams as part of our grant program, they get access to a world that they may have never seen before,” says Dan Miller-Uueda, the associate director for education and outreach at the GRASP lab in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and FLL outreach partner. “I think it broadens their perspectives on what obstacles students may face in getting to a school like Penn and how they can help others have the same level of access and success that they’ve had.”
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