Teaming up for technology

December 17, 2007

Eight DC students participate in ‘junior engineering’ challenge

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Courtesy of a grant from the 3M Company, the Dassel-Cokato Community Education program’s FIRST LEGO League team just completed its second year.

Known as “Da Bomb,” eight students, grades four through nine, participated in the second year of what team mentor Jim Richards calls, “junior engineering” with LEGOs.

This year’s team included Michael Asplin, Cody Harmening, Adam Monson, Cody Peterson, Colby Richards, Korra-Shay Richards, Tanner Schaaf, and Cole Schmidt.

The extracurricular activity began with FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a non profit organization founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen.

Kamen’s vision for the organization is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.”

FIRST designs programs to motivate young people to explore educational and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math.

FIRST, together with the LEGO Company, designed the program, FIRST LEGO League (FLL) to get middle school-aged children involved in science and technology outside of the school curriculum.

The Community Education program begins in September and goes through the state-wide tournament in December.

At the beginning of the season, the team receives a new mission board or mat and the LEGOs needed to create the missions.

Every year there is a new challenge. This year’s challenge was “Energy Resources: Meeting the Global Demand.”

The objective is to program a robot to perform several different missions successfully in two-and-a-half minutes. Missions relate to the challenge.

For example, this year’s team had to perform missions that included alternative energy sources such as a hydro dam.

The students learn the software LabVIEW, which is used in research and development. With this software, they can program the LEGO robot to perform the necessary missions, according to Richards.

FIRST LEGO League is completely kid-driven.

“I’m mostly here so they don’t fight,” Richards said.

Since this is only the second year, Richards and the students are still learning what FIRST LEGO League is all about.

Although they didn’t place at this year’s state-wide competition in St. Louis Park recently, they did progress well throughout the day, according to Richards. Next year, they hope to participate on a more competitive basis, he said.

“Our goal this year was to have a better score than last year, and we did that. We’re still new compared to other teams competing,” Richards said.

At the competition, they were informed of next year’s challenge, which is global warming.

Colleen Compton, adult programs coordinator for Community Education, said this is a great option for middle school students who may not be involved in other activities.

“I hope it’s something we will be able to continue and maybe, start a league in the high school as well,” Compton said.

FIRST LEGO League offers a high school version, which includes building a robot from the ground up and using it to complete an obstacle course, according to Richards.

Richards’ oldest son and daughter were in the program last year, when it first began.

“They like to keep coming back,” Richards said, explaining they enjoy the camaraderie, science, and competitiveness of the league.

The team met Monday nights in the Performing Arts Center’s community room. Look for program registration and information for next year’s challenge in the Community Education fall registration book.