When it comes to addressing natural disasters, what ideas can young students offer? Just ask the 14 elementary and middle school teams from the Capital Region who competed in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Qualifying Tournament on Dec. 7 at Rensselaer. More than 140 students spent the fall working together to use their imaginations and creativity in combination with science and technology to seek ways to solve natural disasters—a significant global challenge that impacts the places people live, work, and play.

FLL is a partnership between the LEGO Group and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate young people to pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering. FLL is the middle school component of the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international contest that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in a competitive way.

The global FLL competition was brought to the region for the eighth time. As part of this year’s challenge, titled NATURE’S FURY, more than 228,000 children from over 80 countries explored the storms, quakes, and waves that are often known as natural disasters. Teams discovered what could be done when intense natural events affect populated areas.

Lego Robotics

Area schoolchildren competed in the FIRST LEGO League Regional Qualifying Tournament last weekend (archival photo).

“This year’s challenge required teams to choose a community—nearby or far away— where a natural event could cause a natural disaster,” said Paul Schoch, associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director of the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE). CIPCE works with area teachers and students to promote the use of robotics in the classroom. “Teams were encouraged to do research and then create an innovative solution to help keep people and property safe, before, during, and after a natural disaster,” Schoch said.

“The topic of natural disasters is an excellent—and in some cases personal—theme for students to address,” Schoch added. “In the last two years, areas of the Capital Region were affected by Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. In most cases, the top priority of disaster response is to save lives. Students love learning about something that is part of their life, and this competition encourages them to see the connections that such issues have to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.”

Participating teams came from around the Capital Region. The tournament provided elementary and middle school students with an opportunity to understand common themes that connect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“After eight intense weeks, the competition season culminates in high-energy, sports-like tournaments around the globe,” Schoch said. “Last weekend, teams of children guided by their volunteer coaches demonstrated their problem-solving skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship, and sense of community. We’re proud to host this competition because events like this not only help students to bring technology to life through their hands-on participation, but it can also inspire them to consider future careers as scientists and engineers.”

For more information.

To view the NATURE’S FURY robot game video featuring robot game designer and engineer Scott Evans.