When it comes to teaching adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn, what ideas can young students offer? Just ask the 12 elementary and middle school teams from the Capital Region that competed in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Qualifying Tournament on Dec. 6 at Rensselaer. More than 120 students worked together to use their imaginations and creativity in combination with science and technology to seek ways to create an innovative solution that improves the learning experience.

The global FLL competition was brought to the region for the ninth time. The program kicked off with the opening ceremonies in the Darrin Communications Center, and culminated with a closing ceremony and awards presentation.

In the 2014 FLL WORLD CLASS Challenge, over 267,200 children ages 9 to 14 from approximately 80 countries worked on redesigning how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Working in teams of up to 10 students and guided by at least one adult coach, team members had about 10 weeks to build an autonomous robot that would, in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, complete pre-designed missions. Tasks included pushing a lever to open a door to learning, completing a sports-based task, moving an idea outside the box, and rotating models to adapt, among others.

Search “First LEGO League 2014 Robot Game video” on YouTube for a glimpse at the competition.

“The competition season culminates in high-energy, sports-like tournaments around the globe,” said Paul Schoch, associate professor in the Department 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.

“This annual qualifying competition involving teams of children guided by their volunteer coaches will demonstrate 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,” Schoch said.

The event was made possible through a partnership between Rensselaer, Hudson Valley FLL, and Time Warner Cable, which has co-sponsored the event for the last three years through its Connect a Million Minds Initiative.

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

The tournament was supported by more than 60 volunteers, including Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff, along with area students from high school robotics teams.—Jessica Otitigbe